Pamela Brown contributed to this article.
Ah, the joy of being at home. Now that most of my in-person speaking engagements and events have been canceled, I have been sheltering-in-place at my farm along with all my animals, including three dogs, a horse, a donkey, a mini horse, and lots of chickens. I love visiting schools and speaking to others in a public forum, but until I can go out on the road again (and I’m positive it will happen in the near future!) I’ve been practicing gratitude for this unexpected time that has been given to all of us. Every day I’ve been trying to do even more self-reflection, discover micro-moments of joy, spend time amidst nature by planting a vegetable garden, painting canvases, and also give more attention to reading, a hobby that I had to push to the wayside in the past due to my busy calendar. I have always loved books and I’m so glad I am able to get back to it. Reading, to me, is a luxury. Having the time to sit quietly and read is a gift you give to yourself. I love laying on my cowhide-covered living room couch with a salt lamp on, keeping cozy under a handknit blanket. It’s the perfect place for me to get lost in a book.
Growing up my mom was a voracious reader and she was always handing me books to read. After my six-year-old son, Jesse, died in the Sandy Hook tragedy I became obsessed with reading nonfiction that covered topics about the brain and how to overcome adversity and be your best self. There is so much new research out there that is so relevant, and life changing! Some of the material I’ve been reading about, including social and emotional learning, neuroscience, and post-traumatic growth, has yet to be implemented in our schools, homes, and communities. I’m trying to learn as much as possible so I can offer our school systems, and in turn, our children, ways to be resilient and empowered peacemakers. My reading has greatly opened my eyes to established practices and also provided me with groundbreaking information that I am able to implement through the programming of the Choose Love Movement. These books have greatly increased the knowledge and insight I now have about providing a solution to many of the issues we’re facing in the world today..
I want to share some of the books that have impacted my life and helped me grow in such a positive way, and continue to do so. I really don’t read any fiction anymore; I mostly find myself drawn to self-help books that feed my mind and soul and are empowering and enlightening. I am always looking forward to finding the next book that will have a profound impact on me and enable me to grow and enjoy the journey of learning.
The Choice: Embrace the Impossible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.
This international best-selling memoir recounting Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s experience as a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz and how she rebuilt her life is my most recent favorite book. In the cattle car on the way to the concentration camp, Eger’s mom told her, “Just remember no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.” Eger realized during her imprisonment that the man who made the decision to murder her parents was more of a prisoner than she because he would never be free in his mind. I spoke at Jesse’s funeral and said the whole tragedy began with an angry thought, and an angry thought can be changed. We can choose a loving thought over an angry one. This was the foundation of the worldwide movement to Choose Love. Eger’s book combines her personal journey with riveting case studies of people she has helped heal through her work as a renowned psychologist and trauma expert. Working with veterans, military personnel, and victims of physical and mental trauma, Eger explores how people can be imprisoned in their minds and shows us how it’s possible to find the key to freedom. When I lost Jesse, I experienced trauma, grief, fear, and anger, and I knew I had to do something to overcome these negative feelings. The meaning Eger found in her suffering is relevant to everyone and is the most important lesson we can learn in our lifetime. She found the power was within her and urges us not to be afraid to face the darkness because there is an even brighter light at the end. If we can see our painful experiences as gifts, this gratitude can strengthen us and enable us to be our best selves. The Choice expertly explains how there are different phases of healing and how everyone has the power to make a choice to either remain imprisoned in the confines of our thoughts or find a way to understand them, to heal, and to move forward in life. You can find the power within you and escape the concentration camp of your own mind and find freedom in your mind.
You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay.
This international bestseller, with over 50 million copies in print, explains how changing your thought processes can improve the quality of your life. Louise Hay talks about the importance of our thoughts and the impact they have on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. After I went through a divorce, I understood that thoughts are very powerful and they can, indeed, affect us in many ways, and most often negatively. This book opened my eyes to the fact that we have control of our thoughts. Just this awareness can have a significantly positive impact on your life. I had to learn how to be present, to deal with my feelings, and to separate from that negative response and move on toward a brighter, more positive future. This is what I said at Jesse’s funeral — that the tragedy started with an angry thought and an angry thought can be changed. I asked everyone to start thinking about what they think about and change one angry thought into a positive one each day to be part of the solution. Hay’s wisdom, inspirational words, and healing affirmations gave me a different perspective on the pain I was feeling as I dealt with the loss of my son and allowed me to alleviate the stress it was putting on my entire physical and mental self. I am always inspired by Hay’s words: “If we are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed.”
Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce Lipton Ph.D.
This book is about epigenetics and how our thoughts can impact our well being physically, mentally, and emotionally. Bruce Lipton is a renowned cell biologist known for bridging the gap between science and spirit, delving into the biochemical effects of how the brain functions and how every part of our being affects our thoughts in some way. We used to think we are our genes and we don’t have control over them but our minds can actually turn on and off gene expression and help us be healthier and happier. Lipton’s explanations are so insightful and interesting as he relates the science behind our thoughts that leads to our beliefs which then lead us to either languishing or flourishing. Despite losing my son in one of the worst mass murders in US history, I want to flourish and live a life of love and fulfillment. This fascinating book has shown me the power of mind-body connection and how our beliefs and our thoughts, both positive and negative, can affect our behavior. Most of our thoughts are negative, but every one of us has the power within us to change those thoughts to positive ones and to always respond with love in any situation. I really felt empowered after reading this book, and, hopefully, that my choices can impact my well-being and that of others too.
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.
This book was first published in 1946, but it still remains a powerful tome on how we must approach life. The New York Times described it as “an enduring work of survival literature.” I was really impacted by the way Viktor Frankl explains how we can’t always choose what happens to us but we can always choose how we respond, even in the worst situations. As a Nazi concentration camp survivor, Frankl offers insight into the strength of the human will to survive a horrific situation. A neurologist and psychiatrist, he used his three years in Auschwitz and Dachau as an experiment. He watched how people who had everything taken from them: their families; material possessions; how people were beaten and tortured, starved, stripped of their clothing and dignity; yet he found they had one freedom left. That was the freedom to choose how they thoughtfully responded. He found those that chose love (kindness, caring, concern, compassion, civility, etc.) not only survived longer, they also found meaning in their suffering. One of my favorite life lesson quotes comes from Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” After experiencing the tragedy of losing my son, Jesse, I had a choice. I could either live a life filled with anger, hatred, and revenge, or I could forgive, feel compassion, and be part of the solution to the problems. I chose to embrace life and start the Choose Love Movement to help others choose love over fear.
Social Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.
This groundbreaking book by Daniel Goleman, an internationally-known psychologist, talks about how important relationships are to us and how we must learn skills and tools in order to have healthy and meaningful connections, including emotional intelligence (the ability to identify, manage and express our emotions). Goleman writes in his book, “We are wired to connect.” There is nothing more important in our lives than relationships and belonging as this impacts every part of our existence. When we interact with others, it influences our brain and makes the neuroscientific connection between mind and body. From the Prologue to social Intelligence, Goleman writes: “Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person.” We can learn skills and tools that enable us to communicate better with each other and to choose love!
Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is a departure from the other books I mention but some classic books just stay with you forever. Little House on the Prairie is a series of children’s novels that detail the childhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a spunky young girl, and her experiences growing up in the American Midwest between 1870 and 1894. I enjoyed reading these books as a child and in turn read them to my children. It seemed to be a simpler time, detailing Laura’s life with her family, living in a log cabin, and her daily activities. During that time, life was filled with hard work and hardships, but it also had a lot of love. The stories in the series remind us of how, despite the struggles we might face, we must appreciate all those special moments with our family. I remember reading to my older son, JT, when he was little and both of us being excited to read about Christmas morning for Laura and her siblings where they received a peppermint stick and handmade doll. It is a great reminder to be grateful for the advances we have made in society but to also appreciate the little things in life, and, of course, to especially appreciate and love one another.