Under The Wheel – Hermann Hesse

Angels in Vietnam – John Wesley Fisher

The Faraway Nearby – Rebecca Solnit

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This beautiful book (the cover art is really beautiful) was handed to me by a friend and, though my wife already had a copy, we decided to keep it so I could read it and tag it all I wanted. Someone had already gone ahead and written in the book in pen (someone called Marion Woodman) so I didn’t feel as bad about adding my notes.

This book is made up of diary excerpts from a period in Woodman’s life when she was diagnosed and treated for cancer; the entries are from November 1993 to April 1995. It is now 2014, 20 years later, and Woodman is still alive.

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Her dedication to life, to studying life and being fully present really comes across and is very inspirational. At one point she goes through all her photo albums and her family photo albums and burns all but a select few of the pictures in order to simplify her life to the point where there is no clutter to interfere with her ability to perceive life in all its subtleties and also her ability to exactly connect intention/visualizations to physicality.

I strongly recommend this book and I’ll now add some excerpts.

Bone is also about the stark truth of growing older. (…) What does it mean to be an elder in this culture? What are my new responsibilities? What has to be let go to make room for the transformations of energy that are ready to pour through the body-soul? I don’t want to be here if I can’t carry my own weight. As life asks new things of me, I feel I must pause, go inward, and ask, “What is my weight now? What are my new values? Who am I and not-I at this stage? Do I have the courage to live with this evolving me?”

Death present in cancer was death asking to be accepted into my life.

Ross and I went grocery shopping today. As we drove past St. Jo’s I tried to understand I was going in there tomorrow to be operated on for cancer. Dear God, it is amazing how we go about the ordinary tasks in the face of the mystery.

Mysticism must rest on crystal clear honesty, can only come after things have been stripped down to their naked reality. – Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life

This walk with Death makes me realize yet deeper that ther is no freedom without discipline–physically, emotionally, spiritually.

The anorexic takes the rage in and kills herself; the adolescent boys take it out and kill the power-crazy drunken patriarchs who are their fathers or surrogate fathers.

Repressed energy returns to haunt us in symbol and symptom.

What we [Marion and her husband Ross] are experiencing is what a Japanese martial arts master once explained to me. What you watch for in your opponent is a suki–a moment when his mind goes out of his body. If you are present, your conscious mind in your body will know instantly if his conscious mind leaves his body. He is finished once that happens. We aren’t sparring, just holding presence. We are accepting the gifts of science that can spare my life immediately; we are also focusing on spiritual and alternative medicines for the future. We’re relaxing into the blend of science and soul.

Simplifying becomes my total focus. I’m noting how anxious I become when I fail to simplify or cannot simplify because of what starts happening around me–phone, TV, letters, ad infinitum. I believe that failure to simplify could lead me back into cancer because I would lose touch with my life vibration–my tone that sustains my life force.
(…)
Anxiety is stripped away by concentrated listening and perceiving. Concentrated vision operating in all the senses is what I mean by simplifying. The more I listen to my soul, the more clearly I hear the truth of other people, of animals, birds, the universe.
(…)
I must stay in touch with whatever keeps me focused on the still point–the place of exact harmony in body and psyche. Simplify life to that point where the dance can happen–the dance between consciousness and the unconscious. So long as I constantly allow other things to interfere, I will never find the moments in each day to reach those listening points of harmony–those seeing points of perception.

Touching – post 1

June 19, 2014

Touching

The 50 books in a year still goes strong but I have noticed that it slowed down this week and a half because the family got sick and I’ve been having less reading time.

Also, this book is fatter!

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin

Excerpt:

It has been remarked that in the final analysis every tragedy is a failure of communication.  And what the child receiving inadequate cutaneous stimulation suffers from is a failure of integrative development as a human being, a failure in the communication of the experience of love.  By being stroked, and caressed, and carried, and cuddled, comforted, and cooed to, by being loved, the child learns to stroke and caress and cuddle, comfort and coo, and to love others.  In this sense love is sexual in the healthiest sense of that word.  It implies involvement, concern, responsibility, tenderness, and awareness of the needs, sensibilities, and vulnerabilities of the other.  All this is communicated to the infant through the skin in the early months of his life, and gradually reinforced by feeding, sound, and visual cues as the infant develops.
– Ashley Montagu

I was introduced to the book back in 2007 when attending the Florida School of Massage.  As someone who works with infants at their homes I see a large range of cosmologies or world-views which reflect on how the parents treat their babies.  Some parents prefer to be disciplinarians in an attempt to teach their child to value respect for elders, following orders, doing things “right”; some parents sleep with their babies at night, some parents use cribs in separate rooms and wrap the babies in those one-piece clothes that prevent them from moving in the crib as it is their view that this will be beneficial for the baby.  I see a large gamut of attitudes and all are based upon what we know.  This book sheds some light on what it is that we do know and may help parents and societies reshape their view of being human.

“Living and Dying in Zazen – Five Zen Masters of Modern Japan”
by Arthur Braverman

Living and Dying in Zazen

A lot of great simple wisdom in this book, wisdom straight from the mouths of five Zen Masters.  Through the investigative work of Arthur Braverman we get to hear what these five extremely devoted Zen masters taught about zazen.  Not much more to say; this book is full of rich insights which are as mundane and boring as every sunset.

Here are some quotes:

 

All the troubles in this world, political, economic and so forth, are created from situations in which the awareness of one’s ordinariness is absent.

My teacher said, “Don’t spare any effort.  People always hold back something when they make any kind of effort.  When you hold something back, no matter what you are doing, your effort never amounts to anything.  You are holding back when you say, ‘It’s no good’ or ‘I can’t do it.
When you say, “This is it!” exerting the effort required to make nine times nine eighty-two, there is nothing you can’t do.  This is because we humans as primates are supposed to be able to exert effort beyond our normal capacity.  In Buddhist terms we would say that the secret of whether one has awakened the Buddga mind is a question of whether one has the will to act….
 – Sodo Yokoyama

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Kodo Sawaki

The universe and I are of the same root.  The myriad things and I are one body.  That is zazen.

Zazen is like the vast sea, a world without limits; it shines like the moon, spreading its limitless light.” This is [Dogen] Famously extolling zazen.

When I’m asked what is the purpose of zazen, I have to say no purpose.  As I’ve often said, sit, body upright, backbone stretched, breathing through your nose, mouth closed, eyes open, sitting resolutely…. Zazen is basically becoming intimate with the self–the Dharma of becoming you.  All the sutras are literally extensions of zazen.

Dogen Zenji expressed it as “In non-thinking it [Buddha Dharma] manifests.”  When you are just sitting, there are no thoughts like, “enlightenment will come little by little.”  That’s where Buddha Dharma manifests.  As long as you just sit, that is where the Way is.  This does not only apply to sitting.  When you are helping someone, you just help.  You don’t say, “If I help her I will gain merit” and you don’t take care of someone because it’s beneficial.  Without thinking such things, you just help whether it brings you benefit or not.

Our bodies do not belong to us.  They are the true activity of the life of the great universe.  That is to say, our bodies are the great universal life.  The proof that this body is the life of the universe is in zazen.  In zazen, you place your hands like this and cross your legs and do nothing at all with regard to yourself.  By doing zazen in this manner, your body will become the reality of the great universe.
Zazen is an activity that is an extension of the universe.  Zazen is not the life of an individual; it is the universe that is breathing.
 – Kodo Sawaki

There is no expression with deeper meaning than that of the word “just” in “just sitting.”  No matter what, throwing away the activity born of ignorant doings, you sit there, which means you are not being fooled.  You stop delusion and sit.

We have to transcend cause and effect.  That is zazen.  Zazen is ceasing to create karma.  That’s the reason we sit, isn’t it?  To stop creating karma and only that.
(…)
That’s the only reason for sitting.  Never mind what will happen next.  This wholeness will act on us from within.

Since we are simply being allowed to do what we do, whatever happens is fine.  If in an encounter I am acting in accord with my inner calling, there is no need to inquire into the results.

Repentance is not saying, “I was wrong.” When someone says, “I was wrong,” it means nothing.  Single-minded zazen, even for a minute, is the correct response.  Sit true Tathagata Zen….  In this you will have repented.  It is said, “If you want to repent, practice zazen and understand reality.”  That is repentance.  If you feel you’ve wronged someone, you should sit earnestly.  In that way you will build [a foundation for] yourself.
 – Motoko Ikebe

Sitting was not some kind of excitement to him.  It was sitting in boredom, pain, fatigue, dissatisfaction, or whatever came up.  Enlightened living for him was living with the mundane.

Walking a Sacred Path – Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool
by Dr. Lauren Artress

I walked into the Friends of the Library booksale in Gainesville, Florida, a glorious event which just happened to coincide with my month-long sabbatical in Gainesville.
My wife and daughter quickly appropriated shopping carts and began filling them up with books and magazines.  I took one walk around and, right at the beginning of the walk, came across the only book I was to buy: Walking a Sacred Path:

Walking a sacred path

I am extremely curious and constantly find myself wanting to learn a million different trades, yet, at the same time, I have learned to become aware of the channel or thread in my life, of the river I’m flowing along and how its currents give me a sense of the turns ahead.  Shortly before this I had turned for the first time.  I had visited a Sufi family and, in their beautifully simple and sacred livingroom, had learned to turn or whirl for the first time.

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I told the lady, Hilal, right from the beginning that I get dizzy fast (takes less than 2 spins with my daughter or son to feel like the world is all wrong) yet I handed over my person to this age-old practice.  That night I was invited to turn and I did so twice for 30 minutes each time.  I could feel my body grow cold and sweaty/clammy; I turned until I stopped turning and the world began turning around me; I turned together with others and I lost myself in the practice and came out changed.
Sufi’s work hard in their spiritual practice.  It is hard work.  Physically and mentally.

The similarities between the Sufi practice of turning and the Christian-mysticisms practice of walking the labyrinth are evident.  Both practices involve a surrender to the present moment, to a loss of attaining a goal because the practice itself is so hard that only staying in the very instant will get you through; both involve circling or spiraling, a loss of linear external orientation and an entering into an internal compass; both are physical practices for spiritual goals.

This book felt small, concise, sharp (for the most part… sometimes felt a little convince-y) and written from a passionate and knowledgeable perspective.  I definitely recommend it.  Dr. Lauren Artress found herself drawn to the labyrinth in her personal life path and then worked to understand it in the context of Christian spiritual practice and did extensive work to divulge/reanimate it.
I strongly agree with the author’s emphasis on spirituality being a personal experience and a personal endeavour and what we need is tools for assisting the individual’s connection to spirit, to their spiritual path, rather than an an external entity dictating our spiritual path.  The labyrinth is one tool for connection to spirit.

“To walk a sacred path, each of us must find our own touchstone that puts us in contact with the invisible thread.  This touchstone can be nature (as it was for me early on), sharing with our friends, playing with our children, painting on our day off, or walking in the country.  It may be the Sunday-morning liturgy and Eucharist.  Walking a sacred path means that we know the importance of returning to the touchstone that moves us.  The labyrinth can serve as a touchstone.”

“It is a container for the creative imagination to align with our heart’s desire, it is a place where we can profoundly, yet playfully, experience our soul’s longing and intention.”

“The experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth.”

“We need to be shaken out of our complacency and begin to use our short time here creatively so we don’t look back in regret.  …  To be pilgrims walking on a path to the next century, we need to participate in the dance between silence and image, ear and eye, inner and outer.  We need to change our seeking into discovery, our drifting into pilgrimage.”

Enjoy this book

Seven Arrows

June 2, 2014

Finished reading Hyemeyohsts Storm’s Seven Arrows a couple of days ago, right before bed, and spent the night dreaming of medicine names, rivers, eagles…  I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book.  Or maybe, more accurately, I was expecting something different.  I think I was expecting a sweet, nature-loving account of how Native American life was organized; a look at their cosmology, their way of life, their traditions and connection to life, nature and god.  I think that the first few chapters still allowed me to keep that view of the book as Hyemeyohsts goes into different stories/tales that are important medicine stories in their tradition.  I think that somewhere around here my view of the book changed:

“Before, when the camps had come together, the Sun Dancers had stood in a line within the Medicine lodge.  The drum had been its heartbeat, and the singers’ voices had been strong.  The People had stood there in the Renewal of the Brotherhood and watched the sunrise.  The Power had been strong and because of this the People had been strong.  But this time, the sunrise that came the next morning at Sand Creek was not the same.  The morning exploded with the frightening crash of thunder irons, as hundreds of Pony Soldiers charged into the camp at a full gallop.

Hawk was awakened by screams and by the roar of horses’ hooves and exploding weapons.  He grabbed his bow and quiver and ran outside.  He saw hi mother clutch at her stomach and roll over in a sudden pool of blood.  She spilled her cooking pot as she fell, and the steam rose from it into the air.”

Image

As I reflect on the book I notice that one striking feature that so touched me is the absence of a reason for the book.  To clarify: it doesn’t feel like the author was trying to tell me something or convince me of something, of his agenda.  He writes a story, an account of lives lived and of the way of viewing the world according to the Medicine of the Peace Shields and, just as in real life, there are deep losses and high beautiful moments.

 

To me, a very moving book.

Recommended.

Lost in the City of Flowers was book 2 of 50 and it landed perfectly between Walking the Labyrinth and The Wondrous Mushroom.  I smiled to see the theme of feeling lost (as in a labyrinth) continuing in to this book and then I was fascinated to find the concept of Flowers being the centerpiece of The Wondrous Mushroom.

Lost in the City placed me in Florence in the year 1469, in the time of Leonardo da Vinci, and as the book’s adventures unfold the reader gets to live and imagine what life was like at that time and what Leonardo’s personality could have been like.  This book brought me to a place of seeing the human in Leonardo; I loved how he is portrayed as a witty, playful, not-boastful young man as well as already being very accomplished in many fields.
Reminded me of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World in that it teaches the reader something but not in a direct way, it does so in the way that we humans best learn which is through stories with interesting characters, heroins we identify with, villains we love to hate and larger than life humans such as Leonardo da Vinci.

Definitely recommended.

LITCF
Author Maria C. Trujillo enjoying her book

This is Maria C. Trujillo’s first book and I look forward to accompanying her evolution in writing and storytelling.

The Wondrous Mushroom!

May 26, 2014

Oyanoconic in nanacaoctli, ya noyol in choca
I have drunk the liquor of mushrooms and my hear weeps.
– Poesia Nahuatl

 

In this age of constant interconnection we are seldom OFF.  We are seldom not-doing.  We are constantly catching up.
There is new information every time we scroll down.  It is either something happening in the world, a new coup, a new discovery, a new bomb, a new intriguing popstar relationship, or it is something new in a friend’s life (even if it is a friend whom we haven’t spoken to in many years, it is there and we must read it).
My connection to books dwindled with the coming of the internet to the point where I’d look at my many bookshelves and wonder “why exactly do I have these books that I love but don’t read”, something was off.

And so I have committed to a simple challenge/project (I like to call my challenges PROJECTS).  A book a week for a year.

A book a week for a year.

Yesterday I finished my third week and my third book: THE WONDROUS MUSHROOM – Mycolatry in Mesoamerica, by R. Gordon Wasson.

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What an amazing book.  Powerfully written (full of conviction), clear, concise, focused and with profound effects.  Simply put Wasson’s work strongly invites you to see the recently lost great civilizations of the Nahua, the Greeks, the Aryans in a completely different light, one strongly, deeply influenced by entheogens (“plant substances that, when ingested, give one a divine experience”).  This book encourages the reader to attempt to see the world through the eyes of a simple people who place at the core of their culture, of their cosmology, of their living the world shown to them by the mushrooms.  Nowadays we call those substances psychadelics or hallucinogenics with the limited understanding that they influence our brains; our scientific endeavours shaping our perception; our yearning for a logical framework limiting the depth of experience.  For those people the mushrooms were, possibly, a door, a passageway, an entrance… not a “figment of our imagination” (or sad excuse for an imagination).

Front cover of the Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex

A long hiatus from updating in this blog but I have not stopped reading.

The hiatus I’ll attribute to, in part, marriage.  Everything can be blamed on marriage 🙂
In my case marriage paused the blog updates but not the reading.  Fortunately my wife is an avid reader and we have adopted the healthy ritual of regularly reading a book out loud to each other.

We are now reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  I’ll cut to the chase and recommend you go out and buy it.  Buy it second hand if you’re low on cash like we all are and then set up a group where you can all read it out loud to each other.
I find this book to be very descriptive but not tedious.  It is well written, eloquent, but somehow doesn’t lose the reader.  Intricate yet, somehow, the author always leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to navigate out of the web of his imagination.

Go read it.

Path Without Destination

September 1, 2008

Excerpt from the book: “Path without destination – The long walk of a gentle hero” by Satish Kumar

“One morning I got up early and walked into the forest.  It was dawn.  There was dew on the grass and leaves.  I came to a tall tree with large overhanging branches, sat down cross-legged under the tree, and closed my eyes.  I looked into my body and saw a dark tunnel, a deep hollow inside.  I went into it, drawn inwards.

Instead of smelling outside, my nose was smelling the inner happenings and my ears were hearing the sounds inside.  I could hear the sounds and voices of the ego pushing me in different directions.  But I sat quietly.  Slowly the battle calmed down, it slowly faded away.  Gradually peace came.

I saw the events of my life as one thread, the same thread which united the whole universe and which was each person.  I saw a struggle without conflict, a pain without misery.  I saw a love so great that it had to remain hidden.  I felt myself part of my mother and father, and in all the people through whom I had been expressed. I was being reborn.  I felt like a child, like an innocent person, just living and growing, engaged in the journey from action to nonaction, from struggle without to struggle within.  Life was an eternal journey, a journey to the center , the source, searching for the soul.

Everything became meditation.  I felt a sense of divinity.  This newness brought a surrender, a surrender where nothing mattered, where everything was accepted.  It was beyond happiness, beyond pleasure.  I experienced the zero level of existence, the void, the beauty of the void and the beauty of nothingness: shunyata.

I opened my eyes.  I saw a snake about three yards long curled around the trunk of the tree beside me.  I sat still. The snake disappeared into a hole among the roots.  I must have sat there for six hours, for when I returned it was after then o’clock.”

This book was passed on to me by a friend and once I finish reading it I too will pass it on to:

someone…