Category Archives: Books

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.

Sefiroticky_strom

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!

Pagan_religions_symbols

 

 

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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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GENES ARE NOT DESTINY

DNA

When I was a teen, genetic determinism was in full swing. As I watched my grandparents die of heart attacks or strokes, I became convinced that my life would end by the same mechanism and I was content with the inevitable partially because it was a far off reality. But again, science is shifting our thinking. The new paradigm is called epigenetics and it has a lot to say about the choices we make. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity not caused by changes in the DNA structure.

biology of belief

Science is starting to grapple with the idea that our environment and choices are far more important than our genetic code. Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief, cites that around 95% of our illnesses are related to life-style choices, stress, and a toxic environment. We have far more ability to influence our futures than merely accepting whatever is in our genetic code is written in stone. Studies of identical twins (with identical DNA) reveal that oftentimes only one twin exhibits some dreaded disease. There can also be substantial differences in longevity. How is this possible? How could genetic determinism get it so wrong?

As usual, science’s understanding has grown slowly and advanced a simple view which has become outmoded. It turns out that our genes are far from static. Genes are always in flux and always being influenced. Some genes are activated by growth, healing, or learning. Another kind of gene is influenced by stress, emotion, or dreaming. A new understanding through epigenetics may allow us to use our will to activate our genes and influence our destiny. According to this way of thinking, changing our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviors sends new messages to our cells thereby changing our protein production without affecting our DNA blueprint. So the original code stays the same, but new information allows the cells to create thousands of variations of that gene.

Dispenza

As an illustration of how this might work, Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, looked at a Japanese study of type 2 diabetes. The subjects were divided into two groups. After a baseline reading to establish fasting blood sugar levels, one group watched an hour-long comedy show while the other group watched a boring lecture. Subsequent to viewing the programs, the group who had watched the comedy show had significantly lower levels of blood sugar. After ruling out the idea that physically laughing took glucose from the blood, the researchers found that the laughing diabetics had altered 23 different gene expressions. A new state of mind apparently triggered their brains to send new signals to their cells which allowed genetic variations affecting blood sugar levels.

genie in your genes

The overall idea here is that we have a vast amount of say in how our genes create our futures. I am not destined to die of a heart attack, nor am I necessarily protected from cancer, just because no one in my family has had it. DNA is not destiny. We will need to tread carefully when we have any kind of genetic testing. I do ascribe to the idea that knowledge is power, but we need to be cautious and not bring into fruition a future that defaults to a false belief system. Another great book on the emerging paradigm is The Genie in Your Genes by Dawson Church.

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STEPPING OUT OF TIME

clock

We’re taught to think in terms of linear time. Our whole lives are guided by the concept that one event precedes another and that consequences come from causes. We tell our life stories from the beginning and only in middle age do we look back connecting events in new ways to retell our story. Even this perspective, binds us to linear time. And yet, we all have experienced time’s peculiarities which open us to wonder. Why is it I can lose time in a favorite activity and that last hour at work seems like a month?    Dispenza

Einstein said, “…the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” Here we see Einstein speaking like a mystic and why should that surprise us? I’m reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One). Dispenza takes on the notion of linear time by examining an experiment done in 2000 by an Israeli doctor. Watch for the zinger!

praying

Leonard Leibovici, MD conducted a double-blind, randomized trial of 3393 hospitalized patients all suffering with a sepsis infection. Leibovici was interested in whether prayer could affect patient outcome. The patients were divided with half being prayed for and half not being prayed for. Dr. Leibovici collected data on the length of fever, length of stay in the hospital, and death as a result of infection. Turns out the prayed for patients had an earlier reduction in fever and shorter hospital stays. The death rates for both groups were not statistically different. The results may shock some, but science has been doing prayer studies for quite a while ( Healing Words-The Power of Prayer & The Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, MD). The truly mind- numbing thing about the study is that those praying in 2000 were praying for patients who were hospitalized in the period 1990 to 1996. The conclusion drawn here was that patients who were prayed for in 2000, actually got better in the 1990s.

So what is going on and how should it change our ideas about time? What if Einstein is right and time is just a persistent illusion, an artifice created by the brain? We’re used to thinking that prayer or focused attention might be able to affect our future. But what if I can do something today to affect my past? Can I pray for a better childhood? Can I heal a fractured relationship from decades ago? Can I send myself strength to get through a rough career change I’m making now? Can I? Can you?

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TreeHouse Arts Interviews Me

IM000011.JPG

I’ve been doing a lot of author interviews and book reviews lately. This month, TreeHouse Arts turns the table on me with some great questions. If you want to learn more about my experiences and where this blog is heading, check this out. http://treehousearts.me/2014/05/31/an-interview-with-author-and-blogger-ellis-nelson/

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Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness by Anne Whitaker

wisps-from-the-dazzling-darkness

Anne and I connected through our blogs. We share many similarities in interests and experiences. I just finished her wonderful memoir and I’m happy to share it here.

Over a thirty year period, Anne was challenged by many happenings which left her baffled. As a skeptic, she tried to come to grips with them as she managed a career and family. But how does the rational mind grasp phenomena like atmospheres, ghosts, poltergeists, mediumship, premonitions, reincarnation, mystical experience, and telepathy and make sense of them? The prevailing worldview of scientific materialism insists they’re not possible. Using diary notes and drawing upon recall, Anne categorizes the events and digs deeper. Her writing is straightforward, honest, and from the heart.

Most of us have probably had some kind of weird experience that defies rational analysis. In 2009, a Pew Research study revealed that 29% of Americans report they have had contact with the dead and 18% have had an encounter with a ghost. Furthermore, 49% report mystical experience as defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” In this context, Anne is far from alone. Many of us dismiss these events because they’re uncomfortable. We shrug our shoulders and try to forget them. This is where one of the powers of Anne’s writing grabs us. As we read about her experiences, we begin to remember our own. Anne is fueled by open-minded curiosity coupled with rationalism in her search. And just like her, we’d like some answers too.

Anne Whitaker

Anne turns to science and finds the reductionist materialism paradigm to be inadequate to address her experiences. At the same time, she knows that current theoretical physics has offered hope. New scientific theories are starting to make inroads toward the mainstream. In the final part of the memoir, she takes on the science and realizes the paradigm for our reality must shift to accommodate what many of us have experienced. Kudos to Anne for boldly sharing her journey. May her book encourage others to do the same.

You can purchase the book here: http://anne-whitaker.com/wisps-from-the-dazzling-darkness/

To learn more about Anne and her work: www.anne-whitaker.com

Anne Whitaker has worked in the fields of adult education, social work, and counselling. She has been a practicing astrologer, teacher and writer since 1983. Her first book was entitled Jupiter Meets Uranus (2009). She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

Pew Study Link: http://www.pewforum.org/2009/12/09/many-americans-mix-multiple-faiths/

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FOR THE GRADUATION SEASON

 grad

That time of year is here again. May and June are key months to celebrate this milestone event in the lives of young people. Whether it’s high school or college graduation, now’s the time to rejoice. To celebrate real world, material accomplishment. Next month, my husband and I will travel to Vancouver to celebrate and take great pride in our son’s graduation from Simon Fraser University. As an individual, he has grown under the weight of many challenges, learned more about who he is as a man, and he’s ready to launch himself into the real world (fingers crossed- I’m a parent).

Congratulations

And as it would happen, I just saw a segment on the Colbert Report about a new book by a professor at Syracuse University, George Saunders. In 2013, he was asked to give the commencement address. It turned out to be a popular video on YouTube because, I think, it’s a little unusual. That speech has been turned into a book called Congratulations- by the way. Saunders took a risk. A lot of commencement talks center around the accomplishments of the individual and challenge graduates to go out into the larger world to contribute their unique gifts. Essentially, they reinforce the ego. Saunders looks back on his life to realize what he regrets most are those times when he failed to be kind. He challenges graduates to begin now to overcome selfishness, the idea of separateness and permanence. To become kinder, now. It’s a simple and powerful message.

The speech on YouTube:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruJWd_m-LgY

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A LOOK AT SYNCHRONICITY

 Buddha

Years ago when I returned to Buddhism and began meditation, I opened a door which, even after ten years, remains open. We can call them synchronistic events (SEs), meaningful coincidences. They come and ping in my environment especially when I’m working intensely on something. The easiest examples to share have to do with my writing. When I was writing INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, all manner of Tibetan symbols and objects showed up in my environment. Where before I knew nothing about Tibet, and relatively little about Buddhism, I started to see various things each and every day. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was alarming- what did it mean? Why was it happening? Thankfully, my immediate family was supportive and I explored various ideas before finally embracing the idea that these events were like warm embraces from the universe.

Synch

Enter psychologist, Kirby Surprise who has written a book called Synchronicity- The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind. He was about to challenge my warm, fuzzy world. Has he won or can we come to a… middle way? Some believe these coincidences are tied to archetypes and Jung’s collective unconscious. Others see the hand of God or some unifying force at work. In Surprise’s career, he has seen clients attribute these “signs” to Gods, saviors, demons, devils, nature spirits, people with extraordinary powers, ETs, ghosts, and/or secret agencies or governments. Our psychologist proposes an alternative. We cause our own SEs because the universe mirrors us. Therefore, what we project is what we get. Many mystical traditions (becoming co-creators) and science itself seems to support the idea.

Current theories of quantum physics play with the idea that the universe has 11 dimensions. In N Space, there are an infinite number of parallel universes. And then there is M Space which has probable universes. Brain activity as thoughts and powered by emotion, move across these spaces creating change. In a sense, we exist in in infinite number of alternative and probable universes all at the same time. The changes we create in these universes ripple back to us as SEs. We are indeed very powerful- but limited according to Surprise, because we can only travel so far. Rhine’s early parapsychology experiments at Duke University seem to suggest we influence our world by 3-5% and that may reflect a typical SE. However, there are exceptional cases of SE which are life changing and may be more in line with a 60-90% change.

stage

All well and good. So what can we do with SEs? Why are they important? SEs give us insight into who we are and how the world functions. For those attuned to SEs, they shake up our world and force us to look at the big questions- who are we, what is the nature of reality? Surprise cautions us here because whatever our belief structure is, meaningful coincidences will conspire to confirm it. Believe a loving, powerful God underlies everything, he shows up. Believe the devil is at the heart of your misery, he’s there too. How about a shadow government conspiring with aliens to take over the world? Suddenly, conspiracy theories are everywhere and intruding into your daily life. While SEs are often fun and exciting, they can also be scary and throw your world into chaos. The trick here is to maintain a sense of humor without believing everything we are being shown. We are the actor on the stage as well as the playwright.

Not that everyone is happy with the book. Surprise does explore the idea that SEs point to deep connectedness, but he is pretty tough on organized religions sometimes putting it on the level of his patient’s other delusions. And while he does admit that SEs can be powerful at times, he tends to dismiss their overall importance. I think he’s done a good job in opening up some speculation on how the mechanics of SEs work, but he may have only part of the story. We need magic and mystery.

Image by: Kevin McGill

Image by: Kevin McGill

Surprise’s book gives some exercises to try so that you can create thoughtforms and see what happens. He goes to great length stressing that everyone has this ability, but many aren’t aware of it. You can live a full life and never recognize SEs- but for those of us who do, it will permanently shift your frame of reference. All spiritual paths tell us this, once you open the door and step through, you can never go back. Some are not up to the journey.

 

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Part II: THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

Sir Robert Ottley, Royalist

Sir Robert Ottley, Royalist

 Continuing with JH Brennan’s, Whisperings: The Secret History of the Spirit World, I wanted to mention the research conducted by Dr. A.R. G. Owen a few years after Bacheldor’s work. A Canadian research group led by Owen wondered if they could create a ghost.

Working a lot like fictional writers, the group created “Philip” and gave him a whole history. Philip had been a Cavalier officer during the English Civil War and had resided at Diddington Hall (a real place). The story of his life was a fabrication and went like this. Although Philip was married, he had an affair with a gypsy girl which had enraged his wife. The wife managed to have the girl denounced as a witch and burned. So distraught was Philip that he threw himself off the battlements of the hall committing suicide. Poor Philip!

Diddington Hall. Photo: John Evans

Diddington Hall. Photo: John Evans

The group held séances for a year trying to contact the Cavalier with no luck. I think it’s pretty amazing they’d keep at it that long with no result. One of the group eventually read Bacheldor’s work and wondered if a lighthearted atmosphere might make a difference. Giving it the old college try, they sang and told jokes, and oddly enough, after a few more séances, things started to happen. They heard their first rap and the table slid across the floor. Success at last! Encouraged, someone asked if Philip was doing it and was answered back with a loud rap. Having contacted the entity, the group used the one knock for yes and two for no method, to go on to communicate with Philip. Phillip affirmed the basic facts of his fictional life story and went on to reveal additional details the group had not created. The séances also produced various physical phenomena. The most spectacular was recorded for a television program. A table climbed a set of steps joining the panelists being interviewed.

Battle of Marston Moor, 1644

Battle of Marston Moor, 1644

I’ll leave you to ponder the significance of the Philip research. As a fiction author, I’m already concocting plots about how the other side conspires to have a good laugh at Owen and the other sitters.

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SHAKING MEDICINE by Bradford Keeney

Shaking Medicine

Bradford Keeney’s book, Shaking Medicine, takes us into the heart of healing with ecstatic movement.  While the East and West delights in powerful, relaxing healing modalities of meditation and acupuncture, Keeney bravely asserts we are missing the other half of healing medicine- the shaking forms of arousal from Africa and other cultures.  Mostly absent from our culture are the healing techniques of The Shake and it’s time we got over our prejudice.  Keeney believes that it is only when we fully cycle through being hyper-aroused and then deeply relaxed, can we powerfully realign and evolve in a pattern consistent with holistic medicine.  Fifty years ago or so, meditation was new and seen as a fringe movement and now it is so accepted and commonplace, doctors recommend it.  Keeney predicts Shaking Medicine is coming west and it’s healing benefits will be open to all.  At first I wondered about that, but my latest foray into my local meetup groups, revealed that there is a group dedicated to ecstatic dance.

Of course, some of the hurdles for society to overcome are the immediate associations we have for those shaking.  Historically scholars (and the general public) have associated ecstatic movement with mental or neurological disease.  Some would even go so far as to say evil or satanic, but most of that is either blatant prejudice or cultural ignorance.  There is also a fear of being out of control that western cultures so value.  Conformity and predictability are pillars of our society, what would happen if everyone shook?  Would we….lose it?  And those still prevalent fears have led Keeney to call shaking The Last Great Taboo.

Photo by: Justin Hall

Photo by: Justin Hall

So what is shaking all about?  Simply put it’s an experience, a journey into the ecstatic state brought forth by trembling joy.  You tremble, quake, and shake losing control and entering into healing and transformation.  Like other mystical practices, you surrender to higher authority and wisdom.  For Keeney, it’s the thing most missing from our spiritual table in the West.  Cultures who practice it value it for its ability to renew and restore vitality.  It takes us into the unknown and connects us to life in all its forms.

Assembly of Quakers, London. Engraving.

Assembly of Quakers, London. Engraving.

This is a book I truly loved.  I knew nothing about the subject and enjoyed visiting the diverse cultures Keeney portrays.  Lest you think shaking is confined to the African continent, Keeney starts out with a tale about settlers in the Pacific Northwest and later the Quakers and Shakers all of whom participated in ecstatic movement in pursuit of spiritual growth.  Keeney has strong ties to the Kalahari bushmen earning the title of Heart of Spears, a title of respect acquired by learning and experiencing their shaking medicine.  Some of the other cultures explored in the fascinating book include the: Spiritual Baptists of St. Vincent (Caribbean), African American Church, Seiki Jutsu (Japan), and Hindu/Buddhist traditions (India).  The book comes with a CD and instructions to begin your own journey of discovery.  Highly recommended!

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