The chill of autumn has arrived along with its spectacular color pallet. Yards are sprouting pumpkins and skeletons; witches hang from brooms. Time to pull sweaters from closets we haven’t seen for a year and sip warm cider from mugs. This time of year calls for the dark and scary (truly, it’s the only socially acceptable time to talk of death).
I’m going to combine two interests here, Japan (because in the spring I’ll be traveling there) and all things creepy because Halloween beckons. Come, we venture to the exotic land of the rising sun. At the base of Mount Fuji, is a forest called innocuously enough the Blue Tree Meadow (Aokigahara), or the Sea of Trees. Lovely, little tourist area of dense forest which flourishes upon a lava bed dating from 864 CE. The forest is known for its profound silence part of which is undoubtedly due to the sound absorbing properties of the area’s volcanic rock. The conifers and cypress trees must also suppress sound. Perhaps it was this uncanny quiet of the forest that first linked Aokigahara with the traditional ghosts of Japan: yūrei. If only it were that innocent…
In Japanese culture, the spirit or reikon, leaves the body when someone dies and goes to an in-between state awaiting funeral rites in order to be reunited with the ancestors in the afterlife. If everything is done correctly, the reikon journeys to the afterlife and becomes a guardian of the family it left behind. Sometimes, however, things don’t go well for the reikon. If the proper rites are not carried out, or if sudden or violent death occurs, the reikon’s journey is disrupted. Even strong negative emotions (revenge, jealousy, hatred, etc.) around the time of death can act to pull the reikon back to the physical world as a yūrei. The yūrei continues to haunt until the appropriate rituals are completed or the emotions that fuel the ghost are resolved. By legend, Aokigahara is full of these persistent spirits. A likely reason for this is that ubasute, or the practice of leaving the elderly, sick or infirm out in mountain or remote locations especially during famine conditions may have been practiced here as late as the 19th century.
In more recent times, Aokigahara has become associated with suicide. The 1961 novel, Tower of Waves by Seicho Matsumoto popularized the area when he became Japan’s best-selling and highest earning author of the 1960s. In 2010, 200 suicide attempts were recorded with 54 suicides. To curb the association with this grim activity, the police no longer release data regarding suicides. Signs have been posted to discourage it. However, every year searches are made, and bodies are recovered.
The two Hollywood movies that have been made about the forest are The Sea of Trees (Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts) and The Forest. Both are good and might deserve another viewing. Happy Halloween!
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A troubled, sixteen-year-old Blake travels to Base Camp on Mt. Everest to spend time with his physician father. When a deadly avalanche occurs, Dad is forced to rethink things and sends Blake off the mountain. Now accompanied by a Sherpa guide, and in possession of a mysterious camera, Blake undertakes a journey which will challenge everything he believes. In the magical Himalayas, he will be forever changed by what he experiences.
Leave a comment below to enter. Blake is traveling in the Himalayas, where would you travel if anything was possible right now? I’ll draw one winner from all those who comment and mail the book to a US address. (Sorry everyone out of country. I’ll try an e-book contest later, so check back.) Contest closes Sept. 14, 2020, noon MT.
For the next two weeks (May 30-Jun 15), INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, Kindle edition, will be on sale for $2.99 ( orig. price $4.99).
HIGH ALTITUDE MAGIC & MYSTERY:
Sixteen year old Blake travels to Base Camp on Mt. Everest to spend time with his physician father. When a deadly avalanche occurs, Dad is forced to rethink things and sends Blake away. Now accompanied by a Sherpa guide, and in possession of a mysterious camera, Blake undertakes a journey that will challenge everything he believes. In the magical Himalayas, he will be forever changed by what he experiences.
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In February, I received Reiki level I training. It was taught in a typical two-day environment and left me feeling like I had more questions than answers. Searching for a good book that would help guide the practice, I found this gem. I read the e-book cover to cover and for anyone wanting an easily accessible manual on Reiki, this is a great one. When I get back home, I’ll definitely be buying the physical book for reference.
Before talking about the book, I think a brief discussion about what Reiki is for those who may have heard the term, but who are not sure exactly what I’m talking about may be in order. Reiki is described as a high vibration healing energy, a specific frequency of chi. Reiki is one of perhaps thirty or so different healing frequencies. Reiki energy stimulates and accelerates the body’s natural ability to heal. The energy is intelligent and works for the highest good using its own timetable. Reiki can affect the physical body, the mind, and the spirit. Developed in Japan by Mikao Usui in the 1920s, practitioners receive attunements to open a channel to allow the flow of Reiki energy.
Although we don’t know exactly how Reiki works, Penelope Quest does a good job providing background information on how science is moving forward with quantum theories and interconnectedness. She points to some tantalizing research done by Valerie Hunt at the University of California on high frequency energy fields. While the average human field is 250 cps, those who use or receive Reiki have a field of 400- 800 cps. I would have liked to have seen some studies on plants or bacteria using Reiki in this book because I have seen them elsewhere. It also begged the question about human studies (you’d think we’d have something by now??). Hopefully, books focusing on the science will emerge over time and Quest’s book is a manual geared to practitioners. (See below for an article citing human studies where Reiki has been effective for treating anxiety and pain.)
Short Reiki trainings do not give a lot of background on Reiki’s developer, Mikao Usui. This is an area where the book is wonderful. Due to a lot of recent research, much of the myth and distortion surrounding Usui is being cleared up. Although we will never have a truly complete picture of this man, we know much more than an epitaph from a gravestone which is all the class alludes to. Quest also goes into meticulous detail over the lineages that developed after Usui’s death and how Reiki in the East is far different from what is taught in the West. I was very captivated with the traditional way Reiki is given time to develop in Japan. The West could learn a lot if we could slow down and step away from the money making paradigm.
photo: Andy Beer
Reiki for Life is divided into useful sections so that Level 1, Level II, and Level III are discussed separately. Anyone interested in Reiki, can quickly find out what is covered at any given level and what the requirements are for practice. Additional chapters offer insights in to how to creatively use Reiki in every area of life. Those wishing to open a Reiki practice in the UK will find very specific guidance on legal requirements, but there’s nothing for anyone who wants to do so in the US or elsewhere.
I wanted to share one jaw-dropping moment I had reading the book. This applied directly to me and occurred at about 70% through the book. Remember I outlined above that Reiki was just one of the healing energies. Well, it turns out that many Western Reiki masters are attuning to Kundalini energy and not the gentler Usui Reiki energy. The lineage that includes William Lee Rand introduced Tibetan Reiki symbols that channel this fiercer (serpent) energy. So, the dragon sleeps no longer. I was shocked. Still am. I think this needs to be disclosed going in. Gulp.
I wanted to read this book immediately after I read the premise.
Jac L’Etoile is a successful author and TV personality who hosts a show about myths. She comes from a long line of famous French perfumers, but she’s walked away from the business. It’s not until the business is in trouble and her brother goes missing in Paris that she returns to confront her past. Her mother’s suicide, a father suffering dementia, and troubling visions all connected with scent threaten to derail Jac from finding her brother.
Jac learns her brother has resurrected a family legend tied to an ancestor who discovered a scent created in Cleopatra’s time that could induce memories of past lives. Of course, Jac is highly skeptical of the idea, but as her own visions intensify bringing her closer to her dead mother, images of ancient Egypt and the French Revolution begin to emerge all calling her sanity into question. Evidence comes light that forces Jac to consider whether her brother may have been killed for Cleopatra’s secret scent. An esoteric society along with the Chinese government all have designs on the powerful perfume her brother was protecting. Interestingly, the brother’s only wish is to get the scent into the hands of the Dalai Lama who can use the memory tool as possible evidence for reincarnation.
I found the idea of scent as a possible device for unlocking past life memory original and irresistible. The visions/past life memory segments of the book were well done. The book reads like a thriller and that’s a plus for me. There is a romantic element woven in that’s kind of cliché but necessary for Jac to resolve her karmic past. I appreciate the author’s research into scent and the history of the perfume industry and did not find it distracted from the plot. I love that kind of detail! Unfortunately, two little details irked me. The Dalai Lama wears burgundy robes not saffron (saffron is worn by Southeast Asian Buddhists). There is also a lot made out of the Dalai Lama being inaccessible and unreachable by Jac’s brother which is not true. His Holiness travels and has a full calendar. He meets groups wherever he goes and he holds meetings in Dharamsala. I know people who have met the Dalai Lama so he is far from unreachable.
Overall, this is an interesting book that moves fast and keeps the reader’s attention while introducing a little known industry. While I didn’t realize it at the time, this book is part of a series on reincarnation by MJ Rose. Some of the reviews for this book indicate she’s hit her stride with this one.
This is the only time I will be doing this promotion. Get your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon (now through Dec. 10th). Snuggle up by the fire and join Blake as he treks in the Himalayas. Happy holidays to everyone! (We have a house in Brussels and we’re moving in Jan. I’ll join you from Belgium in the new year.)
This is a book I thought long and hard about highlighting. I expected great things and was overall disappointed. Unfortunately John Horgan is a reductionist materialist and despite the access he had to various spokespeople on mysticism, he remains thoroughly unconvinced. He is a science writer who holds the dogmatic party line through the entirety of the book. That said, I think some valuable perspective can be gleaned from the people Horgan talks to. It’s worth the read to get an overall feel for the modern history of the topic and hear from some of the players.
Horgan begins with a definition of mysticism within the historical context. He interviews Huston Smith who discusses mysticism as a cross-cultural, cross-religious experience. Smith represents the notion of the perennial philosophy. The author’s search next takes him to a two day conference in Chicago where mysticism is treated as a literary phenomenon. These scholars know in great detail the texts left behind by Eckhart, St. Teresa of Avila, Shankara, etc. But sadly, none of them has any personal experience with anything remotely mystical. The journey continues with an interview of Ken Wilber dubbed ‘the weightlifting Bodhisattva’ by Horgan. Wilbur stands behind Smith adhering to the perennial philosophy but also embraces science as a way to explore and define mystical experience.
Important information is raised in the chapter called Can Neurotheology Save Us?. Horgan visits with Andrew Newberg, the doctor featured back in 2001 in Newsweek’s article, “God and the Brain: How We’re Wired for Spirituality.” Wouldn’t it be nice if brain scans could prove mystical states and help us to understand them? Unfortunately, a review of data collected on all sorts of meditation doesn’t support any nice clean conclusions according to Jensine Andreson, a theology professor at Boston University. And that in turn brings into question all the benefits touted for meditation. A review of the studies looking at meditation and its benefits Andreson believes, are poorly designed and won’t hold up to scrutiny. Of course, as it relates to mystical practice, mystics don’t meditate to lower their blood pressure but I would concede that a whole lot of Americans do increasingly view meditation as a health practice. Should they?
Continuing the scientific pursuit of mystical states, Horgan interviewed Michael Persinger of Laurentian University, Canada. Starting in the 1980s, Persinger began studying the brain’s response to electro-magnetic pulses to certain areas of the brain. 40% of Persinger’s test subjects experience a presence. The Canadian magazine Mclean’s called this device, “the God machine.” Persinger maintains that he has not addressed the God question with his work, rather his interest is in understanding the electrical pattern of the brain that leads to religious belief. But does the machine produce mystical experiences? No. Apparently, no one tested has reported the typical sensations of bliss, unity, or ineffability commonly reported by mystics. Scientific attempts to link temporal lobe excitation or epilepsy to mystical experience do not hold up either.
Horgan next turns to practitioner of Zen and neurologist, James Austin who penned the book, Zen and the Brain. Austin calls his approach perennial psychophysiology. Instead of gaining metaphysical insight, Austin thinks the mystic undergoes deep changes in personality. Someone who has had these experiences becomes more stable, more compassionate, and more selfless. As a specialist in brain disorders, Austin attempts to separate healthy mysticism from other illnesses. His approach relies on the idea that mystical experience releases excitotoxins which cause the loss of neurons. This in turn, allows us to get rid of those things that distort our view of reality. This is as scary as it is fascinating. For me, it makes mystical experience similar to brain damage. Can that really be?
No book on mysticism would be complete without a foray into drug induced mystical experience. Horgan looks at the history of LSD, DMT, and ayahuasca. He visits Stanislov Grof, who is involved in the transpersonal psychology movement. Grof believes that we must move into a new paradigm where mind has primacy over matter (the book was published in 2003, not a unique idea now). There’s an interesting discussion of Rick Strassman’s work as outlined in DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The colorful Terrence McKenna makes an appearance in a later chapter where he advocates the use of psychedelics.
Photo by: vishwagna.com
The book is a nice romp through lots of questions with little in the way of conclusions. I often had the feeling that the author was totally out of his depth. Why did this topic appeal to him? He remained a science writer who attempted to fill pages. Most of them are interesting. I wonder what the book would have looked like with another author or even what the book would look like if updated.