We delve into books for so many different reasons: guidance, knowledge, curiosity and oftentimes to lose ourselves in a captivating tale that can take us to the farthest stretches of our imagination. Esalen News invites our faculty to share what’s on their nightstand and why.
Former Esalen trustee and faculty member Chip Conley, whose moniker adorns the Conley Bookstore at Esalen, offers our first recommendation. Chip is also a bestselling author and a hospitality entrepreneur who at 52 joined Airbnb, embracing the role of a new kind of elder.
In 2018, Chip created Modern Elder Academy, the world’s first midlife wisdom school. What inspiring read lies on Chip’s nightstand?
Esalen News: What was the last book you read?
I'm reading a lot of books on the psychology and philosophy of life stages. I just finished Alain de Botton's The School of Life.
Esalen News: What drew you to the book?
I was looking at the history of how society has viewed this relatively new life stage called "midlife." I'm particularly interested in an academic word that's getting some pop culture attention, "middlescence," which is the adult corollary to "adolescence," a time of profound emotional and hormonal transitions.
When "adolescence" was “discovered” by psychologist Stanley Hall in 1904, this led to the creation of public junior and senior high schools and now that middlescence is being discovered, I think it's time for schools and tools for people in midlife to help them reimagine and repurpose themselves.
Esalen News: What inspires you about the book?
I liked the book's combination of historical perspective on aging and wisdom along with the futuristic thinking of why wisdom will replace knowledge as what most organizations will seek in a future dominated by artificial intelligence.
Midlife has an unfortunate brand that's associated with a "crisis," but what if midlife is just, as Brené Brown suggests, a time of unraveling or maybe even awakening.
I'm a big believer in the "Great Midlife Edit," when we choose to let go of what's no longer serving us. The first half of life is often about accumulating—identities, responsibilities, relationships, things—while the second half is about editing.
Esalen News: Describe the writing style.
Alain de Botton is a philosopher so he wanders a little in his prose, but is truly wise in helping decipher what's truly valuable in life.
Esalen News: What other ways has the book affected you?
This book helped give me confidence that our social enterprise, the Modern Elder Academy, is needed at a time when many of us are living longer than previous generations, yet power is moving younger and the world is changing faster. This combination of facts has a lot of midlifers anxious and bewildered.
In fact, the suicide rate for those ages 45-64 has grown by nearly 50 percent compared to 20 years ago because so many people feel irrelevant or lost. This has helped me see that this is my next calling in life, to create a place where people shift their mindset on aging and unlock the wisdom they've developed.
Esalen News: If you could sum up Alain’s book in one word, what would it be?
“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.”
“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.
What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?