Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

The Little Money Bible – Stuart Wilde

Stuart Wilde spouts some pretty far out stuff on his blog these days but, after a day lost to minimum-wage online writing, a skinny book of his about getting rich seemed like a relief. Nothing the least bit woo-woo about The Little Money Bible, although I did read it from my jaundiced perch where the view is of unrestrained predation on the middle class and an infinitely collapsing economy. In my neighborhood, mom-&-pop stores are falling to bank branches faster than leaves in autumn. How many banks do people with no money need, anyway?

Wilde’s Bible is a compilation of fiscal wisdom from two earlier books, The Trick to Money is Having Some and Life Was Never Meant to Be a Struggle. Right on both counts, Stewie. You live in an alternative universe. (Well, actually, I think the man does now live in an alternative universe.)  In this universe, none of the old rules seem to apply but I decided to dig into Wilde’s Ten Laws of Abundance for either a good laugh or some inspiration. Rule #1 is: The Laws of Abundance are Natural and God-Given. IOW, “…there’s loads and loads of money around.” Uh oh, you are starting to lose me already, Stuart. In my world there are now loads and loads of banks. Maybe the money is in there. But it’s not out here. So, the takeaway could be: become a bank robber?  Too complicated.

Moving right along we come to #2 The Law of Flow and #3 The Law of Money and Distance. Flow means you aren’t struggling with abundance issues; you are in sync with your own emotions and tweaking your strategy to have it all. Or have some of it. Whatever. Distance means there shouldn’t be any between you and lots of money. Trickier. This gets very metaphysical and involves probing your subconscious beliefs and psyche and determining what level of Benjamins will give you a warm sense of security. Know who you are and what you want. Nurture yourself. OK. After the rent is in the bank, nurture it is.

To be fair, snarky brain-dead freelancer that I am, Wilde’s little bible is a good review of basic abundance principles and it was selling like fresh doughnuts before the bandwagon of manifestation gurus blew into town. If you don’t have time for four or five hundred pages about shifting your point of view to the positive side of the ledger, you could grab a pencil and a copy of The Little Money Bible and underline away. Or highlight it on your e-reader. Along with the imminent Biblical Day of Judgement, Wilde’s latest posts are trumpeting the release of a number of his earlier prosperity books on Kindle. Rule #11 The Internet is an Infinite Source of Abundance to Those with a Backlist of Edited, Ready-to-go Books.

The Little Money Bible   Stuart Wilde | Hay House  1998

Priestess of the Fire Temple – Ellen Evert Hopman

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Priestess of the Fire Temple is more of a primer than a novel. Ellen Evert Hopman, an American druid and master herbalist, has written several works of fiction that imagine what might have happened during the time when druidry was systematically obliterated by christianity. This book tells the story of Aislinn, a princess, druid-trained, whose father, the king, entrusts her education to the druids who have always worked with the spirits of his land. Aislinn’s mother pays her no attention–the child is as unruly as her bright red hair and the cool blond ice princess of a queen has eyes only for her son.

As soon as Aislinn turns fourteen, her father announces her marriage to the son of a neighboring ruler as a diplomatic effort to create peace betwen the warring tribes. And she is bundled up, away from all she knows and loves, and carried off to a cold country by a husband who has no use for her. Life quickly becomes complicated when the prince takes a concubine, the land falls into famine and the army is defeated. Aislinn knows the old ways will restore balance but no one is interested in her knowledge.

Aislinn becomes a prisoner of war and meets her soulmate, a fellow pagan who does his best to protect her and is killed in a battle as Aislinn hides nearby. She escapes alone, knowing that she will be a valuable prize to bring down a kingdom if she is captured–and her adventures shift into a mythical hero’s journey as she travels back to her home in disguise, goes to a druid settlement to study with the fire priestess, discovers a shocking truth about her mother, learns the secrets of honoring the land and communing with the elements, hunts for healing herbs and observes the seasonal celebrations and the astrological calculations that predict eclipses and events in the heavens. The passion for her slain lover haunts her, even as she envisions a new life for herself as a druid priestess. And then she receives word that her father is dying and has sent for her.

The book is written in plain language with plenty of Irish that, thankfully, is explained in a glossary. The vernacular seems a bit contemporary for the historical setting of the story but it is fairly easy to follow.  Aislinn is an intrepid soul but she is constantly manipulated throughout the story, which is somewhat jarring. I was fascinated by the information about druidry–there are few records of what actually occurred in those lost times and modern druids have sifted through fact, myth, and fable to reimagine practices, prayers and beliefs. So, I liked it because Hopman speaks with authority and the world she creates is logical and engaging. If you have no interest at all in druidry, I’m not sure what your reaction would be. Marion Zimmer Bradley weaves tales full of poetry and magic that captue the Merlins, Vivianes and Morgans in vivid detail. Hopkins writes educational stories, one of the traditional duties of the bard, if a lesser art form.  

Priestess of the Fire Temple: A Druid’s Tale   Ellen Evert Hopman | Llewellyn Publications   2012

The Book – Alan Watts

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Reading Alan Watts always leaves me feeling like a tangled snarl of string. He begins with a compelling premise, elucidates his considerable thinking on the matter, amplifying his views with quotes from poets like William Blake and from various scriptures and sacred writings. And, by the end of the argument, I have followed him down into a place where the light is either too faint or too glaring for me to see properly. I can’t get to the end of the lesson. Mostly there doesn’t seem to be an end—which is probably what he meant anyway.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is typically brilliant, ahead of its time and infinitely frustrating. Watts examines the social conditioning that teaches us we are separate beings in a physical world of distinct objects and boundaries. He counters this assumption with a mash-up of Vedanta and contemporary physics to assert that our personal selves don’t actually exist. Well, they don’t actually exist as independent beings, disconnected from everything else. We are, in fact, entirely interconnected—as much to the city bus as to the irritating dolt in the next cubicle. And to Mother Theresa and Oprah and all of our friends and to every river, cucumber, butterfly and star.

If your life is a bowl of cherry pits, the collective unconscious, including your own unconscious, created that for your awareness. Or possibly you perceived those pits from the specific level of your own awareness. Sigh.

Some of the most fascinating ideas in Watts’ book (first published in 1966) are his evaluations of the limits of technology and the damage we are doing to the planet with extraordinary depletion of its resources—all because we don’t realize that we are both divine energy and the ground of the universe. We are the creators and to wander around deluded about that is to be unhappy and dissatisfied and to make a complete muck of life.

Nearly half a century ago, Watts was warning about the loss of privacy, technology creep, the eventual restriction of travel, artificially-created foods, the destruction of the environment and the standardization that transforms Waikiki Beach into any island beach anywhere—or maybe an especially theatrical resort pool area far from a real ocean. Wonder what he would have had to say about reality TV?

The monetization of work exhausts you and turns you and your product/service/labor/innovation into cheap commodities. This holds for burger jockeys as well as architects, scientists, housemaids and oil paint slingers (otherwise known as artists). The twin skills of attention and awareness can reveal glimpses of your true nature. We need to acknowledge the existence of magic in the world because, at its heart, all of this is a mystery and there are no words that can adequately capture it, no philosophy that can serve it up to us in neat digestible bits.

I wish I could get a solid handle on the brain of Alan Watts. I think he is right and intellectually dazzling but what the words represent is elusive. I agree we are deluded—I am deluded. But my simple soul would do cartwheels at some graspable notion of how to wake up. Clearly, I will have to read The Book again.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are   Alan Watts | Vintage Books  1989

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – Deepak Chopra

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The Ultimate Happiness Prescription was the thinnest book on the stack so it bumped the 400, 500 and 900+ page monsters aside. Deepak Chopra rides to the rescue on a day hijacked by too much real life. Good message for the frazzled, in any case. The book explores spiritual and neurological dispositions toward emotional equanimity and follows each of seven keys (Deepak Chopra likes to write self-help books in lists of seven) with some simple steps to move your happiness set point up on the scale.

It’s quite sensible, not very woo-woo at all. Body awareness provides clues to how you really feel about events, circumstances and decisions. Chopra examines the interrelatedness of matter, the energy field consisting of the entire universe and you in it, as he tells you to pay attention to what you feel and where in the body you feel it. Stress affects certain areas, anger and fear others—by bringing awareness to physical feelings you can mitigate and even heal what might be making you unhappy, or unwell.

There’s a very good section on being present in the moment. Nothing new about the teaching—it is thousands of years old—but it is a powerful catalyst for change. The point is that happiness can only exist in the moment because the past is over and the future does not yet exist. That seems obvious but we cart around so much baggage that we seldom devote full awareness and appreciation to the present. Chopra recommends a mindfulness practice to increase present-moment awareness. He emphasizes the benefits of meditation as well.

I tend to like Chopra’s audio and video lectures more than his books. Those events seem to treat subjects in greater depth than the slim, nicely laid-out books. But The Ultimate Happiness Prescription is worth the relatively short amount of time it takes to read it and probably worth a few re-reads, too. The activities Chopra suggests and the points he makes apply to every type of self-improvement effort. In the end, he delivers an introduction to the quest for enlightenment—not some exalted mystical state but a better, saner, more intelligent and, well, happier way to live in this world.

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment   Deepak Chopra | Harmony Books 2009

The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order and the author of several books on global consciousness and the concept of oneness. The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul is a collection of talks and teachings that expound on his thinking. I picked it up after hearing him speak in a conference with the shaman Sandra Ingerman. It’s unusual to hear a spiritual teacher so wholly committed to the concept that the patriarchal repression for millennia of matriarchal or feminine energy got us into this planetary mess we experience today. Vaughan-Lee believes we must rediscover and honor the feminine if the world is to heal itself and we are to survive.

He makes a compelling argument that the deep knowledge of creation is embodied in woman and that energy is the key to transforming our existence. His beliefs imbue the planet with a life and consciousness and he invokes teachings about the anima mundi or world soul and the lumen dei or divine light and how the material presence of the one is not inferior to the transcendence of the other.

It’s very interesting and might read at first as complicated to an initiate. But the chapters explain and revisit Vaughan-Lee’s arguments so you can grasp his meaning from various perspectives. This is both a strength and a failing of the book. I would recommend reading it over time rather than in one big gulp. Read in a single setting, it feels unnecessarily repetitive. Contemplated in a more leisurely study, The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul, is a lucid primer to another way of looking at the problems we have created on this planet and the ways in which we might fix them.

I borrowed the book from the library but it will go on my acquisitions list because I think I’ll want to revisit it more than once. I’m always resistant to male explanations of why women have the responsibility to repair the damage, but Vaughan-Lee’s writing does seem reasoned and sincere and there is a wisdom to be gained from it. The Return of the Feminine…is a book to underline and to work with. Many of the passages are powerful and beautiful and I will use them to inspire my intuitive inclusion of these ideas in my own fiction.

The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul   Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee | The Golden Sufi Center   2009

Everyday Zen – Charlotte Joko Beck

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The Laundromat is atypically uncrowded and I get two jumbo washers right next to each other so I don’t need to take a deep breath and remind myself to accept life “just as it is.” I was ready for it, though, after spending the morning immersed in Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen, a book-length collection of dharma talks on Zen practice, its purpose (no purpose) and the philosophy behind it all. I did manage to misread the SOAK and WASH cycles and dumped the detergent and bleach in the wrong ones. Oh well. Perfection is not the point, after all.

Beck was a plain-speaking, no-nonsense Zen teacher (she died in June at age 94) who covered the Zen precepts from basic practice to enlightenment with stories, examples and candid directives. Sitting zazen—the Zen term for a meditation session—seems uncomplicated: sit, breathe, empty your mind. But it is a rigorous practice that exacerbates or initiates aches and pains and could torpedo your psyche. Get too emotionally uncomfortable, a very real possibility, and you might abandon the effort in order to avoid confronting your callous, misguided and unattractive dark side.

The dharma talks explain how—and why—to persevere. “From the withered tree, a flower blooms” is Beck’s favorite quotation from classic Zen teachings, much repeated. Uh oh. Guess who’s the withered tree in this metaphor? The flower represents your progress—maybe a joyful breakthrough or an experience of inner peace. Don’t count on a big explosion of light, O Buddha-wannabe. Imperceptible change is the norm—very incremental. Sit down on your cushion and settle in for the long haul.

It’s a seductive practice, though, tough as it may be. “Enlightenment is not something you achieve,” Beck writes. “It is the absence of something.” Sounds nicely minimalist and elegant, unlike the life of someone with every towel and bathmat in the house putting the soap in the wrong cycle and trying not to splash bleach on herself. I think I soaped too early the last time I was here, too.

Beck cautions that to seek enlightenment is futile and ambitious. Zen is a progressive clarification, a lifetime of lifting veils, shedding misperceptions, accepting the moment. She details ways to handle anger, pain, disillusion, confusion, even breathing. She punctures all the bright balloons of dreamy, nirvana-like states and says simply that you get better at knowing what is true for you and making decisions about your life as you progress.

Duality and individuality are false notions in Zen. Everyone and everything is connected, no separation, no difference. That maniac neighbor who screams and cusses at his kid for six hours straight on Saturday night? You. Every Presidential candidate with his hand out for corporate largess? You. That prune-faced fourth grade teacher who kept you in for almost every recess all year? You. The Dalai Lama? You. All the same. Zen is great physics. Nonduality contradicts James Hillman’s theory of The Soul’s Code, the book I read before this one. Hillman builds his work around the concept of individual fate. Zen is a zebra of another stripe. Not only are you interrelated to the entire universe but nonattachment is a central issue and benefit of all that focused sitting.

Nonattachment loosens the bonds that lash you to your desires so your life becomes calmer, less driven to get and do things, less tinged with disappointment at all you want but don’t have. People who aren’t in the grip of attachment tend to have fewer things, Beck says, but that’s really irrelevant. What is crucial is that you can tell the difference between what is impermanent and what is important. Soap cycle—impermanent. Clean towels—a greater good. All the toys in the toy box? Fine. Few or no toys–make do with your imagination? Also fine. You become free, light and smarter about how to live.

Zen isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t some esoteric practice reserved for a few hardy initiates either. Sit every day, according to Beck, and you’ll gradually open your life to a quiet joy and a peaceful acceptance of each moment as it is.

Everyday Zen: Love and Work (Plus)   Charlotte Joko Beck | HarperSanFrancisco  1989

On Right Livelihood – J. Krishnamurti

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“Is it not necessary,” Krishnamurti writes, “for each one to know for himself what is the right means of livelihood? If we are avaricious, envious, seeking power, then our means of livelihood will correspond to our inward demands and so produce a world of competition, ruthlessness, oppression, ultimately ending in war.” That statement dates from 1944, even though it sounds like a cogent observation of the moment.

On Right Livelihood is a collection of J. Krishnamurti’s talks, writing and conversations about how to find what we are meant to do for a living. But it is really an exploration of the motives of the human heart and how to balance economic necessity with moral integrity.

Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher aligned with no particular teaching or organization. He brought a deep knowledge of eastern spiritual tradition to western audiences but his message was one of inner silence, environmental awareness, individual responsibility and world peace.

His wasn’t an easy prescription to follow. An absence of ambition and indifference to material success reads like the road to nowhere in our society. We are conditioned to create hierarchies—the CEO is worth millions more than the chef, the financial advisor is revered and compensated, the farmer is impoverished and loses his land. Whose children go to college? Where is the honor in simple labor? How do we hear the calling of our true vocation in this clamor?

Krishnamurti preached non-duality and freedom. We are at once who we are and what we do, he said. We embody our beliefs. Once we learn to set aside society’s thought shackles about struggle and success, we can be truly free.

I read this book with one eye on our dwindling finances, one on the news about the little shop of horrors that passes for political discourse these days. Talk about jobs and joblessness, about the 1% who own all the money and the rest of everyone who are cast in the role of collateral damage, is repetitive and cheap. Our civilization is beyond broken, our planet is in a shambles, our leadership should be set adrift in space, maybe with the titans of industry to keep them company. But sweeping away the mess won’t bring us any closer to Krishnamurti’s vision.

His book speaks to educated people who are not captive of ideologies, convinced of their own superiority and entitlement or blind to the inherent bleakness and exploitation of consumer-capitalism. Maybe not so many people. Education is a failure system that trains compliant cubicle workers and coddles the privileged through universities that supply little more than vocational training. People learn how not to think, how to avoid painful truths, how to fill chasms of emptiness with stuff, frantic schedules and all things superficial. Krishnamurti’s advice is timeless but it seems almost too challenging for our times.

“How am I to live sanely in this world that is insane?” he asks. “To live in this insane world sanely, I must reject that world and a revolution in me must come about so that I become sane and operate sanely. That’s my whole point.”

Good point. Add: Get a Life to the to-do list. Figure out how to pay the escalating grocery bill with the proceeds from honorable and valuable work. Identify what honorable and valuable work means these days. Meditate to experience inner peace. Respect the integrity of the planet. Read more books. Refrain from manufacturing or selling weapons. And stop using plastic bags.

On Right Livelihood     J. Krishnamurti | HarperSanFrancisco   1992

Awakening to the Spirit World — Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman

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Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman are well-known shamanic practitioners and this collaborative book is a primer for anyone wanting to know more about modern shamanism and how it works. The book includes a CD with drumming and flute sequences that allow you to practice taking a shamanic journey by entraining your attention to the beat. There are a number of suggested exercises to give you the experience of travel to one of the three spirit worlds–the Lower World, the Middle World and the Upper World—in search of revelation.

Instructions guide the reader to discover a power animal, experiment with intentional and lucid dreaming and interpret dreams. There are applications of shamanic practices to affect weather and heal the environment, create ceremony and ritual, enter a visionary state of consciousness through making art, evaluate the resonance of sounds and words, work with light, color and crystals and redefine a relationship with death.

The work in this book is all about healing and understanding at a deeper level of consciousness. It isn’t at all airy and insubstantial, the exercises are practical and many of the underlying beliefs are accepted precepts of widespread spiritual practices. The text is sprinkled with the observations and anecdotes of four additional contemporary shamans—a Celtic shaman from the Hudson River valley, a Native American shaman university professor, a psychotherapist who studied shamanism with Huichol elders and Incan and Peruvian Amazon shamans, and a medical anthropologist who practices Andean shamanism and energy medicine.

Ingerman, a licensed therapist and shamanic practitioner who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a respected workshop leader who has written a number of popular books about shamanism. Hank Wesselman is a paleoanthropologist and shamanic teacher with his own library shelf of books about the practice. He spent years studying the indigenous shamans in Africa and today lives and teaches in Hawaii.

I found this book fascinating—it’s written in a very down-to-earth style and addresses many key issues of our times. All of them need serious healing, from environmental degradation to medical diseases to pandemic violence to spiritual confusion and mental illnesses. The narrative of the shamanic journey is a close match to the narrative in a good story. Awakening to the Spirit World teaches the rudiments of a simple, accessible practice that doesn’t involve a lot of Hollywood theatrics and props. Rather it cuts to the heart of the human relationship to the planet and all of nature, the realization that we are first spirit and then the personas we cloak ourselves in, and the power each person has to tell their own story and shape a healed and whole life. Worth reading, contemplating and trying out—on my list to acquire for my own library and further exploration.    

Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation   Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman  |  Sounds True  2010