Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Very Different Kind of Book

     Last week I was extolling Sophy Burnham's account of her mystical experiences in The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life.  This week's book is almost a polar opposite approach to meditation and spiritual growth.

    Written by Daniel Goleman, he of the Emotional Intelligence books, it is The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience.  If Burnham's book is personal and flowery and open and filled with tender vulnerability, Goleman's book is precise, categorical, analytical, and scientific.  I believe it is an offshoot of his research for scientific journals, and it reads like it.

     This is a good book for those who want to analyze meditative states and how various religions teach their followers how to achieve them.  For me, that was among the more interesting parts of the book.  I hadn't seen a hierarchy of meditative states so precisely described as in this account, and some may find this valuable.  Goleman also discusses the benefits, as show in scientific studies, of meditation on physical, emotional, and mental health.

     Overall, it's a good book, if written from a completely different side of the brain than Burnham's.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

An Interesting Book, Part 2

     Last week I was introducing Sophy Burnham's The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life, about her mystical experience while on a trip to Peru, and how it transformed her life.

     One of the side-effects of her experience was a closer relationship with her angels or guides.  She felt at times that she could communicate with them and receive answers telepathically.  Of course, this is not new, as many mystics over the ages have also experienced this ability.

     However, one of the questions that she asked her guides was about the purpose of prayer.  Here is their answer:
  1. "So we will know what you want, in order that we may give you what you need."
  2. "Because when you pray, for a few moments you surrender -- it may only be fifteen seconds out of fifteen minutes of attempted prayer.  But in that moment of surrender, you open a window through which we can enter to execute the desires of your heart."
  3. "Because your prayers give us the energy to do our work."
     Because these answers were so unexpected, Burnham counted them as genuine.  They certainly spoke to me.  

     So, keep praying.  Our world needs it.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

An Interesting Book

     I recently finished an interesting book by Sophy Burnham entitled The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life.  She is the author of A Book of Angels, which I have not read, but was well-received and sounds significant.  Perhaps sometime in the future.

     In The Ecstatic Journey, Burnham recounts her trip to Machu Picchu in Peru where she had a profound mystical experience.  It shook her to her core, and the ripples of the event caused her to question nearly everything in her life.  Over the course of time, she felt compelled to study the experiences of other mystics, and these stories are interspersed with her own story throughout the book.  For both the personal and historical view of mystical experiences, this is a good book to read.

     What I really liked about her writing is that she made these experiences -- so often nearly impossible to capture into words -- accessible.  If you have ever tried to read William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, you will know how valuable an ability that is.

     If you are mystically bent, or have questions about what others have experienced, this is a great resource.  If you find all this talk too "woo-woo" for your taste, then it's best to skip it.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Couple of Quotes for Today

     A couple of pithy quotes to ponder:
There are thousands of kinds of injustice but there is only one kind of justice -- equal justice for all.  To call for a little more justice, or a moderately gradual sort of justice, is to call for no justice.  That is a simple truth.  (John Howard Griffin)
All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That's terrible, but we do nothing.  We say nothing.  We let other people fight their own battles.  We remain silent because silence is easier.  Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for "Silence gives consent."  When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.  (Roxane Gay)


Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Beautiful, Unusual Book, Part 2

     Last week I was lauding the book H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  What a beautifully written, deeply touching work.  In it, Macdonald details how she came to purchase and then train a goshawk, named Mabel, to hunt and then return to her.  But, really, this book is so much more than that.  It's a profoundly felt, introspective work on how this process of training Mabel helped her through her grief over her father's death.

     Interestingly, Macdonald intersperses her own personal insights with insights into another author's life and work -- T.H. White's Goshawk.  White, I had to be reminded, was the author of The Once and Future King.  He was also a deeply troubled and pitiable character who had difficulty balancing his affection for his goshawk and his own tendencies to be self-centered and cruel.  But the act of training their goshawks, in Macdonald's hands, illuminates the characters of White and of herself.

     In one telling passage about how Macdonald had almost lost herself into complete empathy with her hawk Mabel in order to escape her grief, she writes:
     All the way home on the train I thought of Dad and the terrible mistake I had made.  I'd thought that to heal my great hurt, I should flee to the wild.  It was what people did.  The nature books I'd read told me so.  So many of them had been quests inspired by grief or sadness. Some had fixed themselves to the stars of elusive animals.  Some sought snow geese.  Others snow leopards.  Others cleaved to the earth, walked trails, mountains, coasts and glens.  Some sought wildness at a distance, others closer to home.  'Nature in her green, tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions,' wrote John Muir.  'Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal.'
     Now I knew this for what it was:  a beguiling but dangerous lie.  I was furious with myself and my own unconscious certainty that this was the cure I needed.  Hands are for other human hands to hold.  They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.  And the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.   
     Beautiful writing.  Beautiful book.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Beautiful, Unusual Book

     I recently finished a beautifully written, though unusual, book.  It's called H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  I call it unusual because, honestly, I wasn't that incredibly interested in the subject matter (I'm not a big fan of reading about predatory birds doing their bloody work), but I was interested in how the author's mind works.  And that was the reason I bought the book.

     I had originally seen her in a PBS Nature documentary.  She was showing how she was training a goshawk to hunt for her, and I was captivated by the commentary she provided on her own thinking, on how the bird symbolized certain things for her, and how having a goshawk helped her through her own grieving process over her father's death.  I was deeply touched by her poetic insights.

     Yes, the book does describe -- beautifully, mind you -- how the goshawk kills rabbits or pheasants and the like, but it's so much more than that.  So, if you're a little squeamish like me, hopefully, you'll overlook those parts to feast on the rich insights that she provides throughout.

     If you love deep introspection that informs the human condition and beautiful, poetic writing, you'll treasure this book.  Try something different.  Get this book.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Poem for Twin Souls

"Sudden Light"

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before, --
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall, -- I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti