Browsing Category "Books"
16 Oct
2017
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All I Can Say is: WOW…

…and: Charles Johnson is a GENIUS. (He did win a MacArthur “Genius” award, after all.)

So, OK, most of you know that I did NOT want to read his award-winning novel, Middle Passage. (I posted about that here.) The book is about a slave ship and its voyage from Africa to America — and I just did not want to have to deal with that.

But the fact that I was avoiding it was the reason I knew I had to read it.

So I am.

And I am SO glad. Because it is FABULOUS.

Here’s an excerpt:
(The narrator is a freed slave from Illinois, who has moved to New Orleans and become a petty thief.)

How I fell into this life of living off others, of being a social parasite, is a long, sordid story best shortened for those who, like the Greeks, prefer to keep their violence offstage. Naturally, I looked for honest work. But arriving in the city, checking the saloons and Negro bars, I found nothing. So I stole–it came as second nature to me. My master, Reverend Peleg Chandler, had noticed this stickiness of my fingers when I was a child, and a tendency I had to tell preposterous lies for the hell of it; he was convinced I was born to be hanged and did his damnedest to reeducate said fingers in finer pursuits such as good penmanship and playing the grand piano in his parlor. A Biblical scholar, he endlessly preached Old Testament virtues to me, and to this very day I remember his tedious disquisitions on Neoplatonism, the evils of nominalism, the genius of Aquinas, the work of such seers as Jakob Bohme. He’d wanted me to become a Negro preacher, perhaps even a black saint like the South American priest Martin de Porres–or, for that matter, my brother Jackson. Yet, for all that theological background, I have always been drawn by nature to extremes. Since the hour of my manumission–a day of such gloom and depression that I must put off its telling for a while, if you’ll be patient with me–since that day, and what I can only call my brother Jackson’s spineless behavior in the face of freedom, I have never been able to do things halfway, and I hungered–literally hungered–for life in all its shades and hues: I was hooked on sensation, you might say, a lecher for perception and the nerve-knocking thrill, like a shot of opium, of new “experiences.” And so, with the hateful, dull Illinois farm behind me, I drifted about New Orleans those first few months, pilfering food and picking money belts off tourists, but don’t be too quick to pass judgement. I may be from southern Illinois, but I’m not stupid. Cityfolks lived by cheating and crime. Everyone knew this, everyone saw this, everyone talked ethics piously, then took payoffs under the table, tampered with the till, or fattened his purse by duping the poor. Shameless, you say? Perhaps so. But had I not been a thief, I would not have met Isadora and shortly thereafter found myself literally at sea. 

***

This is SO great. And SO Buddhist! Stay tuned.

6 Oct
2017
Posted in: Books, Racism
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On Choosing

This month, I suggested the novel Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson, for my CDL White Awake group to read. I chose it because although I’ve read almost every book he’s written — and LOVED all of them — I have avoided reading this one.

Even though it won the National Book Award (1990) and even though it’s his most famous book.

The problem: It’s about SLAVERY. And I’m white. So of course I don’t want to read it.

I’m serious. I really have NOT wanted to read this book. Even though I was mesmerized when he spoke to us at the CDL retreat, and even though he is THE MOST FABULOUS WRITER I’ve come across in a very long time — I have just not been able to get myself to read this book.

But the fact that I haven’t wanted to read it is exactly the reason that I really DO want to read it. Not as some kind of penance. Or because I feel like I “should” read it. Or that it would be “good for me” to read it.

But because I keep feeling drawn to it.

Even as I’m fighting against whatever it is that draws me, I know that there is something in this book that I want. Not something I want to have. Something I want to inhabit.

I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that.

I just know that even though I’m the one who chose this book for us to read — the truth is: this book has chosen me.

28 Sep
2017
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Waves of Possibility

Another passage today from Phillip Moffitt’s new book, Awakening Through the Nine Bodies:

“Experiencing the Spiritual Body is like feeling the underlying power of the ocean. In some places the ocean is calm; in others it is rough. At times you can feel the effect of the wind on the ocean and the undertow of waves breaking onto the shore.

“Imagine what it would be like if you could feel all of the different qualities of the ocean at one time as un-manifest energetic waves of possibility.

“In the same way, in accessing the Spiritual Body, you can feel the ‘ocean of potential’ in the mind, which can manifest as thoughts, emotions, words, and actions. The Spiritual Body is an energetic sense of possibility that is un-manifest, yet it can be felt directly and intuited…

“Once you have experienced the Spiritual Body, you have the insight that what arises in the mind in any moment is determined either by the causes and conditions that characterize that particular moment and your mental habits or by mindful cultivation of deliberate intention.

“This is why we practice meditation — to be able to have choice about what actually arises from this vast potential.”

27 Sep
2017
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Thank You, Phillip

OK. I can see how it might seem a little extreme to fly all the way to California for a chance to meet with Phillip Moffitt, but:

It. Was. Worth. It.

Thank you, Phillip. That’s about all I want to say, except to post this passage from Phillip’s new book, Awakening Through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness.

“Sometimes you may have experiences during meditation that are confusing, alarming, intoxicating, or captivating. When such experiences occur, you may become stuck or fixated on the experience as you try to understand it, or make it happen again, or make it go away, or prevent it from happening again.

“Many of these seemingly mysterious and exceptional experiences can be examined and understood utilizing the Nine Bodies map. Additionally, the perspective of the Nine Bodies creates a container for your intense meditation experiences that normalizes them and breaks your fascination or your fear of them.

“Once you have some means for normalizing an exceptional experience, you can move forward in your insight practice. Likewise, in doing jhana (concentration) practice or even concentration metta (loving-kindness) practice in the Theravada tradition, very powerful experiences can occur, which these teachings can help put in perspective.”

23 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Dharma Friends, Travel
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What Opens Before Me

Sorry for not posting yesterday, but there was a lot going on, both internally and externally (as they say).

And now I won’t be posting again until Wednesday because I’m flying to San Francisco tomorrow to meet with my teacher, Phillip Moffitt, and to visit with my dear, sweet, wonderful, and so amazingly generous (!!!) dharma friends, Maggie and Tony, who are not only picking me up at the airport and hosting me at their house, but are also driving me all the way to Phillip’s office in Tiburon and back. (I love you guys!)

So now, in keeping with my pre-flight ritual of reflecting on the nature of travel as I am about to embark, I offer this selection from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

Cities & Desire 1

There are two ways of describing the city of Dorothea: you can say that four aluminum towers rise from its walls flanking seven gates with spring-operated drawbridges that span the moat whose water feeds four green canals which cross the city, dividing it into nine quarters, each with three hundred houses and seven hundred chimneys.

And bearing in mind that the nubile girts of each quarter marry youths of other quarters and their parents exchange the goods that each family holds in monopoly–bergamot, sturgeon roe, astrolabes, amethysts–you can then work from these facts until you learn everything you wish about the city in the past, present, and future.

Or else you can say, like the camel driver who took me there: “I arrived here in my first youth, one morning, many people were hurrying along the streets toward the market, the women had fine teeth and looked you straight in the eye, three soldiers on a platform played the trumpet, and all around wheels turned and colored banners fluttered in the wind.

“Before then I had known only the desert and the caravan routes. In the years that followed, my eyes returned to contemplate the desert expanses and the caravan routes; but now I know this path is only one of the many that opened before me on that morning in Dorothea.”   

14 Sep
2017
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Looking for What You Already Have

“When you seek love from another in your daily life or seek someone that will generate feelings of love within you, you are looking for what you already have.

“All love is already within you in its giving and receiving forms as pure love without attachment or expectation, but you have to discover its presence before you can rest your mind in its presence.

You are love, so when you feel love for another, you are experiencing this innate presence of love encountering itself through you and the other person.

“Likewise, when you have love for another, you are simply remembering what you always were and always will be, love itself.”

— from Awakening through the Nine Bodies, by Phillip Moffitt

13 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Webcasts
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Spirit Rock Live Webcast: Sept 17

This coming Sunday, Sept 17, Spirit Rock will webcast (live) an evening with Daniel Goleman from 9:00 to 11:00 pm St. Louis time (7:00 to 9:00 pm Pacific time). Cost begins at $15. Registration is required. Click here for more information.

***
The claims for the benefits of vipassana and mindfulness range from scientifically sound to pure hype. At this event, Daniel Goleman answers questions about what science actually has found, what’s not known, and what’s simply not true.

His new book with neuroscientist Richard Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body sifts through the more than 6000 peer-reviewed articles on meditation to pinpoint the strongest one percent.

The news here for long-term vipassana meditators is compelling.

***

Check it out!!!

7 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Racism
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But Not All of Us

Three of my CDL buddies and I are continuing our “Waking Up to Whiteness” study group by assigning ourselves books to read (ones that we most likely would never have read in the past) and then talking about them together once a month. The book we’re reading now is Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life, by David Billings.

Here’s a passage that has really stayed with me:

The dominant culture in the US has always lifted up the nation’s ‘rugged individualism’ as key to understanding ourselves as a people.

But not all of us have been allowed to be individuals. People of color have always been lumped together as part of a group even when the grouping made no sense (Hispanic), was ahistorical (American Indians), or culturally insulting (Asian).

Only white people are allowed to be individuals, first and foremost.

6 Sep
2017
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Both the Motivation and the Destination

Yesterday I started reading Phillip Moffitt’s new book, Awakening through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness for Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Practitioners.

This is not a beginner’s book.

In the Introduction Phillip writes: “Inevitably, if students practice meditation with intensity, altered mind states will arise for most of them. These mind states can be extremely pleasant and involve an altered sense of perceptions, or a dazzling sense of well-being or clarity of mind that is so enticing that students obsess about wanting to have more of such an experience. It is easy for these states to distract them from the true purpose of meditation, which is to liberate the mind from greed, hatred, and delusion.”

While I am very much excited about the book’s focus on extraordinary mind states, the passage that really resonates with my deepest experience is this:

“What I have found thus far in my own journey is that love (not romantic, self-referential love, but rather the mysterious, interdependent oneness that is beyond the ego) is both the motivator for the journey and its final destination.”

I can’t wait to read more.

1 Sep
2017
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If I’m Going to Die…

“If I’m going to die, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind & open my heart. If I’m going to live, the best way is to quiet my mind & open my heart.” 

News from Mirabai Bush, my beloved dharma teacher, mentor, and deep dear friend:
She and Ram Dass have just finished writing their second book together, this one on love and dying, to be published by Sounds True. (Their first book was Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service, written in 1991.) No release date announced just yet. Stay tuned!