Tag Archives: book review

DO YOU SEE THAT?

   HALLUCINATIONS by Oliver Sacks

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I used to think hallucinations were associated with a particular kind of person- someone who would stand out in a crowd- someone who would need … medication. But that’s not wholly true. I suffer with migraines and, on occasion, I have aura in the classical fortification pattern (those zigzag lines). These are visual hallucinations. So on another level, I know hallucinations can affect many who wouldn’t stand out in a room or need medication.

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks is a fascinating book because it reveals the diversity found in the human experience. Forget what you thought “normal” meant. It won’t be useful anymore. Turns out, there are many perfectly happy, functional people who have hallucinations.

Photo: Erik Charlton

Photo: Erik Charlton

So what do we mean by a hallucination? Different definitions have been used throughout history. Even today there is confusion over exactly what a hallucination is, because the boundary between hallucinations, misperception, and illusion aren’t always clear. Sacks begins with the idea that a hallucination lacks external reality. (Keep in mind that for a Buddhist, we slipped into nebulous territory by assuming an external reality independent, discrete, and concrete.) Anyway, seeing or hearing (also tasting, feeling, or smelling) things that are not there will qualify as a hallucination for the book’s purposes. Hallucinations appear real to the one experiencing it because the perceptions are fully working to create that reality and project it into the world. This is different from a memory or the use of the imagination where, in the mind’s eye, both are experienced. Hallucinations are further characterized by being involuntary, uncontrollable, and often possessing color or detail beyond everyday average experience. Brain imaging now allows scientists the ability to monitor electrical and metabolic activity while someone is hallucinating.

Photo: Jens Maus

Photo: Jens Maus

Sacks chose to avoid any analysis of dreams (although he does cover those hallucinations experienced upon falling asleep or waking up ) and the subject of schizophrenia. He does hint at the level of stigma associated with seeing (or hearing) things and how patients will not disclose this is occurring. Oftentimes, people will avoid using the term hallucinating and call it other things. Modern society equates hallucinations with insanity. Sacks cites a 1974 case published in Science where eight healthy pseudo-patients presented themselves at various hospitals complaining about hearing voices. Seven were immediately diagnosed as schizophrenic without any other symptoms. The other one was diagnosed with manic depressive psychosis.

The book takes up the breadth of human experience in which people have hallucinations due to medical conditions and drug use (both prescribed and recreational). There are many first person accounts given in the book. They are all candid and insightful, and open the opportunity to grow our compassion. Some of the medical conditions discussed are Charles Bonnet Syndrome (blindness), deafness, Parkinson’s, migraine, epilepsy, PTSD, and delirium. Various injuries, sensory deprivation, sleep disorders, and grief may also bring on hallucinations. Although the chapters on out-of-body, near-death-experience, and ghosts are interesting, I disagree that science has a full explanation to offer us. From Sacks’ point of view, all mystical experience probably would also count as a hallucination. Again, a limited view.

This is a very informative and enlightening book, sharing what in many cases individuals are afraid to share with the general public and their doctors (for good reason, apparently). It does much to decrease the stigma associated with hallucinations and enlarges our understanding of the range of what it means to have a human body with human perception.

Oliver Sacks: TED TALK- Hallucinations

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Filed under Book Review, Books, brain science, dreams, health, hypnogogic dreams, hypnopompic dreams, schizophrenia

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, health

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, healing, Spiritual/Mysticism

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, Story behind ITLS

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, PSI

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, Spiritual/Mysticism

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR EDWARD FAHEY

THE MOURNING AFTER by Edward Fahey

mourning after)

Seeking other writers who write on spiritual topics, I was drawn to Edward Fahey’s work. His recently released novel is a treasure and I want to share it with a larger community of bloggers and others who have gifted me with a very special audience. Edward has created a beautiful, mystical work using his own brand of poetic prose which captivates and delights. His writing excels for its descriptions, character building, and tone. Come; dig into the magic and mystery as we follow Denis, M, and Waters who will eventually discover who they truly are.

Here’s a brief synopsis of The Mourning After:

Nightmares of war and death from lost centuries torment a young boy with ever more devastating detail until he can’t separate fantasy from reality. Denis meets a child he calls M, who seems to know his dreams intimately. She asks him, “Do you … remember?” He grows into adulthood amid disturbing evidence that his fantasies have been ancient memories. He finds a decrepit cabin in the woods where they start coming real. Outside is a grave for one of his “imaginary” childhood playmates, Enoch. Someone has been tending a garden over it. Through life after life Denis and M have loved each other with increasing desperation. He keeps dying young; leaving her grieving into lonely old age. Enoch, always in the background, somehow holds the key to ending this cycle of suffering. Denis now searches for M, as she fights her own haunting mysteries back to him. He meets a quiet, mysterious man in the forest…. You will believe in reincarnation. Probably before the narrator can. You will know that broken relationships can be mended, and that tragedy can lead to triumph. But most of all you will fall in love. This is a tale for those who never quite fit in. It’s a story of passion, where that which can’t possibly be true weaves through wonders that can’t be denied, until love makes everything real.

In a world where death is but another beginning, you must trust in what you cannot believe.

Welcome Edward and thanks for being here.

Author Edward Fahey inside Merlin's Cave.

Author Edward Fahey inside Merlin’s Cave.

Thank you, Ellis. I feel like The Mourning After is my gentle-natured baby, so I love that she is touching the hearts and lives of so many readers. It’s like we are an intimate and growing family. I’m thrilled you’re now part of it.

I know this novel is a reflection of your own spiritual path and I wonder if you could share how the idea for the novel came into being and how it grew over time.

My mom, dad, and great-grandmother returned as ghosts. People in my family don’t always stay dead. I’ve had past life memories of being given as a small child to the church in medieval times, and of being burned at the stake as a high priest. Since childhood I’ve sensed lingering spirits in old homes and graves. So you might guess I rather naturally came by a certain curiosity about what lies beyond.

“The Mourning After” also grew out of a profound romance, including shared past life memories that totally changed me in my twenties. When it ended, a victim of loving beyond the stage of self-sacrifice, almost to that of soul-demolition, I knew we’d have to meet again in some future life, because we weren’t done loving each other.

I marinated in this conviction for years until “Mourning” was finally born.

I just returned from six months in Europe, touring powerful ancient centers of spirit, mysticism, and magic, along with ancient graveyards. Exploring other realms has been a lifelong passion of mine.

Photo by Daniel Case

Photo by Daniel Case

Throughout the book, you use extracts from The Mountain Journal. As a reader, I questioned whether these poems were specifically created for the book or if they were from your own journals collected over the years.

Great question. It was actually some of both. I’ve had readers tell me my characters are so alive they have dreamed about them. Well just imagine how they shove and nudge about through my own days and nights. When I finish writing one novel, I have to spend months letting that world dissolve before I can find an open  place in which to start building, or discovering, the next world.

But while they are alive, we eat, sleep, and dream together. When I watch trees fade into darkness, I see them through the eyes, spirit, and mood of whichever character is coming through me at that time.

For example, I heard a dog echoing through the woods one night. I live in the woods, and had heard that before, but this time I was sitting with Denis, a lonely, painfully sensitive, isolated soul who had lost everyone he’d ever loved. He was troubled by nightmares that could have been ghosts, could have been past life memories. So I feel it was he, more that I, who wrote:

      Dogs don’t echo in the city.   

Under a low, sodden moon,

one far distant and solitary beast

called out to a world that had turned away.

His plaintive baying haunted me,

echoing unanswered through the wooded hills.

His loneliness drew up into a soft little fist of tears inside my chest.

The evening was just gathering;

this poor empty creature would have a long time to cry uncomforted.

- Then I sensed forsaken spirits

wandering lost among the trees around me,

keeping silent company,

themselves uncherished and unanswered.

As these nightmares and mysteries gather ferocity, slashing at him, insisting he figure them out, he can feel something big, maybe even fatal, coming at him. So when I listened to the winds as he was went this, it was as if it was he who was listening: 

Far off I heard ominous winds gathering force,

churning trees with massing ferocity;

while around me

all things held and were still.

Except for the anticipation.

As I looked out on cold grey day as he suffered, I shared his mood:

     Outside the clouding windows,

a few weary leaves

shivered off their last dying hopes

as fragile wood fingers danced back the winter.

I would love to take credit for these passages, but they grew out of the passions and needs of the characters moment by moment.  Many have said this book has a life of its own, and I’ve just helped set it free. I may have been wandering the woods around my mountain cabin, observing and gathering thoughts; but once the world of any one book has formed around me, I am never alone, and what I write seems a shared effort.

Alone, I can only write the first draft. After that, the characters take the reins from me, and carry each tale to places I could never have imagined on my own.

One of my basic rules of writing is that I must surprise myself, or I could never surprise the reader. When these characters come fully alive, in all their psychological layers, they are just full of surprises.

 Your novel begins with Denis as a child. I enjoyed the way you blended the fantasy play life of this boy with the stirring of past life recall. Did this come naturally to you or did you research children who exhibited past life recall?

 I have researched reincarnation and what lies beyond. I am quite sure, since before my own birth. I’ve had ancient memories both under hypnosis, and spontaneously. In The Mourning After, there are scenes where a young couple recalls Native American village life from another time. These were based on recurrent memories I enjoyed from as far back into my childhood as I can remember.

Mountain Flower, photo by Rennett Stowe, USA

Mountain Flower, photo by Rennett Stowe, USA

I know we share a background in Theosophy. There are many aspects of the story which resonate with those ideas. What other ideas or influences helped you to create The Mourning After?

Students of theosophy may recognize certain moments, like when a ghost writes a message to a friend in trouble, and the words seem to bloom inside the paper, rather than being written on the surface (as with certain Mahatma Letters).

There’s another scene where a deceased character gathers a tiny seed of heaven and memory before being pulled back into the world of the living. This is how I see the concept of the Sutratma.

But beyond theosophy, and my own life, I think there have been unseen influences. Sensitive friends have told me that when I read passages of this to theosophical groups, unseen beings, spiritual teachers, gather around and listen in. Sometimes they nod, as though they had tried to influence or inspire me as I’d been writing it, and I may have gotten some of it right.

 

Theosophical Society Seal

Theosophical Society Seal

 

Can you tell us what you’re currently working on? Is a new novel in the works? 

Until The Mourning After was actually published, I had no idea how profoundly it would affect the lives of so many. For example, I had no idea how many mothers out there have had their children tell them things like, “Remember when we lived on the farm, and you were my sister?” It doesn’t make the news, or even common small talk among friends, but there is apparently a lot of that out there.

When Dora Kunz first became president of the American Theosophical Society, she asked me to join her at headquarters, which I did for over a year. She and another beloved friend and mentor, John Coats, used to say Theosophy was mainly being presented to eggheads, that someone needed to breathe some life and youthful energy into it.

Now I’ve seen the wonderful reaction of everyday folks living ordinary lives, but loving my mystical little story. There seems to be a real need for presenting ancient truths to normal people in entertaining, easily assimilated ways. Single moms raising kids. Families and individuals dealing with AIDS, cancer, poverty, alcoholism… If these ancient truths are real for any of us, they must touch the lives of all of us.

So I want to continue offering messages of hope and theosophical principles through magical and entertaining stories. To these ends I am currently writing a book called “The Gardens of Ailana,” through which readers may learn how to heal and be healed. It will be based on my time studying Therapeutic Touch with Dora in private lessons after hours in the occult library at Olcott, with Dee Krieger, and the folks at Pumpkin Hollow Farm, and the New York T. S.

I am gathering ideas for another book so far titled, “Facebook Mystic.” It will be about people feeling isolated in their own lives, but who touch and bond through the internet. They find themselves guided more and more through undeniable synchronicity and developing awareness that could only come from some Higher, knowing, intentional force.

My life has been a strange one. Living with ghosts, healers, psychics, and mystics. Traveling out-of-body to the hospital rooms of those in need. Camping in deserts and living on cruise ships. Massaging celebrities and suffering poverty. Working myself up from suicidal depression to a life of joy and fulfilment. I have roughed this story out in a book called, “Entertaining Naked People,” but have stuck this on the back burner for now as I develop the others.

I’ve also written a political thriller, “The Soul of Hatred,” which will also have to sit on a shelf for a while. In this one, we show a dystopian future under a totalitarian government. The mega-rich have taken over everything, even re-writing The Bible to suit their agenda. America is lost to Dickensian poverty and ignorance as their mouthpiece “news” network encourages violence and racism, hoping to bring on Armageddon.

When they do, though, and God fires his first warning shots across the bow of humanity, the fascists find out they are on the wrong side.

 For more information on Edward Fahey’s work, please visit his sites.

 Website: http://bobedwardfahey.com/the-mourning-after/ 

Amazon Book Link: http://www.amazon.com/Mourning-After-Edward-Fahey/dp/1484157427/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386184086&sr=1-1&keywords=the+mourning+after+edward+fahey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robert.fahey.16?ref=tn_tnmn

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