Category Archives: Books

THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman

Photo: Steve Evans

Photo: Steve Evans

The 70s were a long time ago, but reading The Visitors took me back to the time when Tutmania ruled. I remember seeing the exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art along with record crowds. The golden mask of the king glittered looking new. So did the statuary, jewelry, and crisp decorative paintings. Ten years of careful excavation and restoration accomplished by Howard Carter and his team ensured the 1923 find would be preserved.

Visitors

Sally Beauman takes us back to that time with the story of a young British heiress named Lucy. After suffering the loss of her mother and recovering from an illness, Lucy travels to Egypt where she befriends the daughter of an Egyptologist. This allows her access to the exciting world of excavation in the Valley of the Kings just prior to the discovery of Tut’s tomb. Lucy meets Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, and many of the other players in the upcoming historical find. We glimpse aristocratic society in the colonial period, the politics of the fight for Egyptian independence, the conflict over ownership of artifacts, and the obsession of the two men who desperately wanted to make names for themselves. Throw in the fictional murder of a free-spirited heiress and Beauman’s book is a thrilling read. Unfortunately, this is a book where the author lost control of the story. For some reason, she felt compelled to keep writing allowing Lucy to grow up, marry, divorce, and live a mostly tragic existence. Read the book for the first 300 pages and skip the more than 200 pages that follow.

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THE LOST SECRET OF IMMORTALITY by Barclay Powers

Lost Secrets

I’ve been taking some classes on a particular branch of Gnosticism and went in search of a book to help me see “the forest through the trees.” Certain things that were being taught on the transmutation of energy and enlightenment started to feel restrictive and I wondered how other spiritual traditions approached the subject. Author Barclay Powers has a BS in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and has studied meditation, yoga, and martial arts for over thirty years. His book allowed me to gaze across several Eastern traditions while confirming almost everything Gnosticism outlined.

Photo: Mark Donoher

Photo: Mark Donoher

Once upon a time, the secrets of the East were tightly restricted to advanced followers of personal lineages. That has all changed with new translations of ancient texts and a proliferation of skilled teachers. The internet itself can even act as a guru. Ancient wisdom is available from India, China, Egypt, Tibet, Japan, and eastern and western alchemy. Powers sees a paradigm shift coming. Science is now looking at states of mind through brain imaging and he feels science will eventually look at the phenomena of the “rainbow body”* (the dissolving of the body into pure energy). When that happens, the world has the potential to change and manifest the best of humanity resulting in a global Bodhisattva* civilization.

 

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

 

As we wait for science to catch up, individual practitioners all over the world are taking up techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, gi gong, kundalini awakening, and the internal martial arts. All of the methods begin in the body and ultimately unite the body, soul, and spirit. Instead of a psychological transformation, Powers is talking about a physiological process that spans traditions. The ultimate freedom of enlightenment is found when the individual transcends birth and death, as well as time and space. The bulk of the book is devoted to examining Indian (Kundalini), Chinese (Tao), and Tibetan (Tantra) teachings for their similarities of energetic enlightenment. This was a good book for getting an overview of the systems of enlightenment. I enjoyed learning more about Taoist philosophy and the difference between the internal and external martial arts. The book could be expanded to include more about western mysticism and the Kabbalah, but those are not Powers’ areas of expertise. This is probably not a book for someone without burning questions about the nature of reality and enlightenment. For the novice, these practices will, at times, be shocking. They are meant to be having spent a millennia being well guarded by the masters of many traditions.

Photo: Joe Mabel

Photo: Joe Mabel

*Rainbow body- a phenomena well-recorded in the East, especially when a great spiritual teacher dies

*Bodhisattva- someone who postpones full Enlightenment to return to help others: the ultimate expression of compassion

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ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGOTTEN under contract

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I’m happy to announce that my middle-grade novel, entitled Elephants Never Forgotten, is now under contract with MuseItUp Publishing. It’s a science fiction tale that could easily be pitched as Micro meets Jurassic Park. It was written at a time when I was finishing up my work in humane education and it honors the human/animal bond. The book is set for release in the Spring of 2015 as an e-book.

About the book:

A hundred years in the future, eleven-year-old Nigella receives a shipment from her deceased grandfather. Her inheritance is a herd of micro-elephants. While a lot of her friends have micro-pets, Nigella is at a loss on how to care for them. Why are her micro-elephants so different? What was her grandfather up to? In her quest to understand her pets, she learns that there might be a group of wild elephants left in a remote part of Africa. With the help of her best friend, Kepler, the girls set off on an adventure to discover the truth.

 

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CAN MYSTICISM BE PRACTICAL?

Photoevelyn3

Evelyn Underhill asked this question of herself one hundred years ago on the eve of the outbreak of The Great War. Oddly enough reading her book titled Practical Mysticism, I’m struck with how current it is. Her arguments against materialism and self- interest are as pertinent today as they were in 1914. And how strange it is to be reading her work at a time when the US appears to be on the verge of expanding the war on terror. This is the case especially when you consider how at the end of WW I, the victorious sliced, diced, and built nations in the Middle East which are root causes of today’s issues.

book

Evelyn Underhill is considered an authority on Christian mysticism having spent a lifetime researching, exploring, experiencing, and writing about it. For her, mysticism is defined as the art of union with reality. Notice the absence of the G- word. In order to justify taking up the call of this difficult journey, both inward and outward, mysticism to Evelyn’s mind must be practical. It’s not just about reaching up, it’s also about bringing down. While the experience of ultimate reality is personally transforming, mystics must create in the material world.

In Practical Mysticism, Evelyn outlines a universal process to be used by those interested in deeply engaging with reality. The first step requires the training of attention. With meditation and recollection, you begin to experience freedom, spaciousness, and peace. Your values change as you let go of your attachments. Later, as you develop in the first contemplation stage, you bring the “eyes of love toward the world”, recognizing the Immanent Being in everyone (and everything). You go in search of connection while dismantling your own personality. During the second contemplation, you’re pulled into deeper levels of reality which are supported now by an inward push. At this stage, knowing is achieved through direct intuitive contact and not through thought or feeling. Here the depth and height of your experience transforms you. The transcendent nature of mystical experience is ineffable, but that has never stopped mystics from trying to describe it.

Photo by Bjoertvedt

Photo by Bjoertvedt

One line truly stood out from the book for me. Evelyn says (and here Christian mystics seem to depart from Eastern traditions), “Perpetual absorption in the Transcendent is a human impossibility, and the effort to achieve it is both unsocial and silly.” Of course, there are whole traditions that advocate just that.

Returning to Evelyn’s map of mystical progress, the third contemplation is characterized by a ceasing of your active efforts. You let go of striving and rest in the darkness and quietude. The self surrenders, receives, and gains a conviction in the certainty of the Transcendent. What you actually experience depends on the individual. Some may experience ecstasy, but it is always on some level, unity through personal encounter. From here, you return to the material world to take up the mystical life going deeper and wider, permanently changed. Now the work involves becoming “an active and impassioned servant of eternal wisdom.” In Evelyn’s model, contemplation is never an end in itself. The challenge of the spiritual life is to go up and down the ladder getting inspiration and creating in the world. The work to be done today is huge; much like it was back in 1914. The true mystic takes up the call to live a “better, intenser, and more significant life.”

 

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INTERVIEW WITH KAREN WILSON

Karen_Final

I recently finished reading a book by healer and spiritual teacher, Karen Wilson. Karen has spent the last decade or so immersed in the study of spirituality, meditation, and alternative health. No stranger to the mystical, she shares her experiences and the techniques you can use to find happiness, inner peace, and contentment in her newly released book titled, 7 Illusions. Karen teaches at workshops and spiritual retreats in Australia and Europe.

7 Illusions asks us to examine who we really are. The seven illusions she explores are categorized as creation, free will, the mind, fear, death, the self, and emotion. Understanding how our perceptions cloud our reality opens our eyes and allows us to see things as they truly are. This is the key understanding that will allow us to live happy, contented lives. Karen writes from experience and is passionate about helping others as we make the spiritual journey. She joins me today to discuss her book and her approach to spirituality.

Welcome to the blog and thanks for taking the time to be with us. I appreciate it!

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What do you think triggered your spiritual journey? What were your own personal challenges at the time?

When I arrived in Australia at 23, I wasn’t at all into anything ‘spiritual’. During my travels I arrived ‘by chance’ in a little town called Byron Bay, the alternative mecca of Australia. There I started hearing about all kinds of New Age beliefs, alternative therapies, talks about yoga-healthy living- meditation, and God. I remember thinking that all these people might be crazy or that there was something they knew that I didn’t. I started asking questions to ‘the universe out there’ as I was being told. I wasn’t expecting any answers back, at all. Yet I got some. Too many to be ignored, I couldn’t keep my head buried in the sand anymore. That was my biggest challenge, to realize that all my old beliefs were not true, that was questioning my very sense of self. I was like an adult back at kindergarten, having to learn everything from the beginning. When I was ready to learn, I started reading all kinds of self-help / New Age books. I started learning energy healing, and I started meditation. All that I didn’t believe in before! I practiced a lot and I also started having many ‘spiritual/mystical’ experiences. My life totally changed in the years following these awakenings. I became happier, more peaceful. I also healed my physical body. I was on medication for hypothyroidism since I was 14, which according to my doctor couldn’t be cured. But the best of all, I found myself and I started living, really living.

Your book identifies 7 illusions. Of these, which is the most difficult to overcome or see through?

I think the identification with the mind is a powerful illusion. Until we experience a state of no mind and realize that we are not that voice in our head, the mind will keep on controlling us. The mind is a great tool, but it is not who we are. Unfortunately we tend to get caught in its incessant chatter without realizing that we have the power to stop it or change ‘what is being said’. If we change ‘what is being said’, then we change the experience we are living. No matter what`s in front of us, the mind will always judge it. Things are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The difference between the two comes from the programming of our mind. But seeing things as ‘good’ will create a sense of happiness while ‘bad’ will bring dissatisfaction. That`s the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. When we identify with the mind we are condemned to see life through its filter. But when we understand that we are not that mind and that we have the power to change the filter, then our life changes. We truly have the power to change our mind and our life.

Photo by: Kate Jewell

Photo by: Kate Jewell

I love the phrase from the book about “creating happiness by creating ourselves happy.” How can we go about this?

We can create ourselves happy by changing our negative beliefs and perceptions on life and on ourselves. We will never find happiness on the outside; we will never find happiness in material things. All the happiness in the world is present inside of us. What does it mean to be happy? It is being contented with what is. It is being contented with who we are. If we want to create ourselves happy, we can create the person we will be contented with. The person we dream of becoming. And there is an indefinite number of possibilities of who we can be. For example, are we trying to become rich to feel more empowered and self-confident? Then why not trying to be more confident first, so it doesn’t matter if we get rich or not, we will be happy with ourselves. We can create ourselves as we wish. We can be anyone we want to be. And becoming our dream-self will bring us self-love and contentment which no amount of money in the world can buy.

The book balances the idea of free will and fate. In this way, we’re not omnipotent but we’re not victims either. How do we integrate this into our daily lives?

If we can`t change what is happening right now in our life, we can always change how we are reacting to it. We can always try to fight and resist our life but it will only bring unhappiness and frustration. When we start accepting what is and when we start to live the present moment, then our experience changes. We are not changing the outside circumstances, but we are changing the inside, we are changing ourselves. Instead of focusing all of our thoughts, all of our energy on the past or on the future, we can shift our focus to the now. We can start living and enjoying the now. And in the now we have the power; we have the free will of who we want to be. In the now we can choose to be happy or not, we can choose to be fearful or not, we can choose to be loving or not. In the now we always have the choice to smile…or not.

Photo by: Deror Avi

Photo by: Deror Avi

Why do you think so many people struggle with meditation?

I think it is because we don`t learn early enough how to meditate. We are taught early how to use our body: how to walk, talk, write, use a fork, etc. Imagine if we were to start learning all that in our twenties, thirties or later, imagine the struggle then! It`s also like training a dog, it`s much easier to train a puppy than a grown up dog with its old habits and way of being. It`s the same with our mind and meditation. It does not mean that it`s too hard or impossible, just that it may take more time and effort to tame ‘the beast’. Many will give up after a few days or weeks, thinking that it doesn’t work or do anything. It’s like going to the gym after years of not exercising and looking at our abs after a week and giving up because we don’t have a six-pack yet! I remember the first time I meditated, I only lasted five minutes! My mind was so busy and ‘unchained’ that I kept on forgetting I was meditating! Yet I’m so glad I persisted, as not only it became easier and easier, but it totally changed my life. I think meditation can be a struggle at the beginning but it is definitely worth the effort.

Why is it good to be “out of your mind?

Because when we are “out of our mind” we are present, we are here. We can be physically present somewhere, yet in our mind we are somewhere else. We can be in a beautiful place in nature yet we can’t really SEE it, because we are thinking about something else. To really SEE something we need to be completely present with it. When we look at a tree for example, and start defining it: ‘it`s a nice tree’,’ it’s an oak’, ‘it’s quite tall’, we are still in our mind. We are LOOKING at the tree but we don’t really SEE it. Instead of watching the tree we are listening to the voice in our head which is telling us about the tree. Soon that voice is going to compare that tree to another, make judgments, reminds ourselves of other trees we have seen in our past, then other people, then we are going to think about what we are going to have for dinner. We are still in front of the tree, but we are long gone. If we are ‘out of our mind’ then we just look at the tree, that is all. There is nothing standing between the tree and us, no words, no thoughts. We are really seeing what is. The tree just is, and we just are, that is all.

Thanks for being here and sharing!

For more about Karen Wilson or her book, 7 Illusions, please explore these sites.

Website: www.karenwilson.co

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/omniahealing

Blog: http://karenwilson33.wordpress.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Illusions-Discover-who-really-are-ebook/dp/B00JZHU3TM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407958582&sr=8-1&keywords=7+Illusions+by+Karen+Wilson

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JUST BELOW THE SURFACE

Secret Rel.

While in Vancouver, I stumbled on a little book called A Brief Guide to Secret Religions: A Complete Guide to Hermetic, Pagan, and Esoteric Beliefs by David Barrett. Barrett has a PhD in the Sociology of Religion from the London School of Economics. On several nights, after an exhausting day of sightseeing, I’d settle down to read Barrett’s work. I know I’m weird, but I found this to be a fun, little history book. For years I’ve skirted the edges of the New Age movement, am happily surrounded by pagans, and lately I’ve been taking classes on Hermetical beliefs so the book interests me on several levels.

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Barrett divides the book into three parts (the New Age: Hermetic, Occult, High Magic: and Neo-Paganism), but he freely admits that when examining the interrelationship of these groups, the lines blur quickly. So he imposed this structure knowing it’s arbitrary. Interspersed throughout the book are interview responses from different followers of these groups which illuminate their thoughts on various key issues, expressing commonalities and differences. It’s a fascinating read and you begin to understand that these alternative paths have a rich history and a dynamic future. In a culture where we are fast becoming a people who identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” understanding the depth of the roots of New Age (don’t think for a second that Hippies started this), Hermetics, and Paganism become more important. Many of the ideas of these groups are moving mainstream led by new scientific theories, continued interest in environmentalism, and an era supporting individual spirituality. Barrett’s writing reflects that he is a scholar, open-minded and even-handed. Highly recommended!

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ENTER TO WIN A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK

snow scene

TreeHouse Arts is running a contest through July 10th (Th.). Enter with a poem about snow. Winner’s poem will be published on their site. Good luck!

http://treehousearts.me/2014/07/05/part-iii-summer-reading-giveaway-and-haiku-contest/

Into the Land of Snows

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