Books

Book 497: Ordinary Goodness – Edward Viljoen

Now that I’m starting to settle into my new job (and have two weeks of vacation – when this posts I’ll be somewhere between Seattle and Alaska), I’m starting to catch up on galleys/ARCs that I received at the end of 2016.*

This is one of those books that goes in the pile of I would probably never pick up on my own, but since the publisher sent it and it was vaguely interesting to me I read it. I found the concept interesting and the idea of goodness outside of institutionalized religion is something I “believe in,” so I figured why not.

The book itself was easy to read and I enjoyed Viljoen’s writing style and the bits of himself he let seep into the book, but overall this was just a meh book for me. I’ve definitely read books that were much more focused than this one and maybe that’s what it was for me, what felt like a lack of focus.

The way the book was grouped into five subjects made sense, but inside each of those five sections it just seemed too freeform without any direction other than the loose section they were in and for some reason this just got to me. Overall though, I did find the stories interesting, just not orderly. I appreciated how he tied everything to his own experiences and to the strength of his grandmother.

I also really appreciated that even though the book is about spirituality, it is about finding goodness inside and outside of religion. It’s about looking at the world’s religions and finding those things that aren’t hateful, that aren’t spiteful, that teach you to love and trust and be good to each other.

I found these two passages reaffirming. I’m not a very spiritual person, let alone religious, but as someone who has meditated and who wants to get back into the habit I found the top one particularly poignant. And as someone who is pretty anti-institutionalized religion the second one I felt summed up Viljoen’s ideas really well:

“Some people use the technique of mentally talking to the thoughts that pass through their minds. They might pretend that each though is a person and ask it ‘What do you want me to know?’ Approaching meditation this way helped relieve the anxiety that arose when I became aware of how crowded with thoughts my mind was. Instead of trying to wrestle my mind into submission, I dropped expectations of how it would be and found my quiet mind was available even in the presence of all the mental noise. I began to notice a foundation of quietness in me and began to become more interested in the quietness than in the noise. Maybe it is because I stopped resisting what was in my mind.” (142)

“I believe there is no such thing as a right faith, but there is such a thing as a right effort or a good attitude that leads to deepness. Depth grows through consistency and steadiness. I have seen that faithfulness to ordinary goodness in the form of daily kindness and compassion is itself a practice that leads to an experience of the mystery, with or without religion.” (188)

Recommendation: It’s an interesting read, but I do have to wonder if he could’ve written it or formatted it in a better to understand way. I’m sure I will pass this on and at the very least will remember it to recommend to others the next time someone says they’re interested in meditation and the more spiritual side of meditation.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for my honest opinion, no additional goods or money were exchanged.

Opening Line: “Author Anne Lamott, on the eve of her sixty-first birthday, wrote a list of things she knows about being.”

Closing Line: “I believe that I, together with all other people, experience, create, and further evil to the degree that we are out of alignment with ordinary goodness, and that when we come back into alignment all things are made new.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

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