Moreover, readers can literally “feel” good writing
(Click twice to enlarge the graphic)
One of the most interesting details shared in the graphic above is the information about the Princeton University Study which demonstrated that the brain of a person telling a story and the brain a person listening to it can synchronise. The academic paper published by the researchers can be read on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website. The link that is possible between a storyteller and their audience, what the paper describes as “speaker–listener neural coupling” can be clearly seen in this image.
More fascinating research on storytelling and the brain has been conducted at Emery University. A study published in February 2012 found that a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is also activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard. As Annie Murphy Paul explained her fantastic March 2012 essay Your Brain on Fiction, “while metaphors like ‘The singer had a velvet voice’ and ‘He had leathery hands’ roused the sensory cortex, phrases matched for meaning, like ‘The singer had a pleasing voice’ and ‘He had strong hands’ did not.”
Infographic source: BestInfographics.com
Many thanks to Aerogramme Studio
A real gem of metaphysical fiction
Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Dark Night of the Soul is a real gem. E.M Havens has used magical realism in this YA novel to examine suicide and the issues that surround it, and like all the very best indies, it’s a completely unique voice that explores its theme in a brave new way.
Seventeen-year-old Jayden commits suicide and finds herself in a kind of purgatory where teams of people who have committed suicide protect other suicidal souls from the demons that whisper in their ears and incite them to suicide. Life in this purgatory is a series of battles. If they defeat the demons, the person lives; if they lose, the person succeeds in their quest for death and their soul joins the team. When a new member arrives, the Judgement–a kind of sparkly storm cloud–comes for another. If it’s you it comes for, you’ll meet a statue of yourself and you can either submit to the judgment or fight to keep the demons off your statue/soul. If the judgment takes you, you’ll either move on to the next realm, or you’ll go back to your life. It’s a second chance. It’s difficult to explain and it’s bizarre, but it works.
Havens takes us through a series of events in which Jayden grows as a person.This isn’t a story you can say much about without blowing the intricacies, surprises and beautiful ending. What I can say, though, is that I didn’t want to put it down.
The author skilfully revealed the details of the world and the character’s lives as the story progressed, so that there was always something new to learn and a different angle to take on what we’d already seen. A romance blossoms as well, one with a bitter-sweet flavour because it apparently has little chance of long-term success. The environment is surreal, taking the group of demon slayers through various terrain and a wide variety of accommodations provided by “Him.” Is it God? No one knows. One powerful image is of a Walmart in the middle of a desert where the manager uses televisions to show Jayden the options the suicides don’t see due to their tunnel vision. That’s when she learns why they fight to keep the demons from luring people to their death.
Though the subject is suicide, this is not a sad or depressing book; it’s a great tale with layers of meaning. Though it appears as a fantasy, everything is a vehicle for insight making it more precisely metaphysical fiction and magical realism.
It’s simply but effectively written and warrants 5 stars once an issue of formatting has been corrected.
“Is it Heaven.”
“No.” He looked down at me in awe, a smile gracing his burnt and peeling lips. “Better. It’s Walmart.”
Dark Night of the Soul, by E.M. Havens
E.M. Havens, 2013
Kindle, 166 printed pages
Buy at Amazon
Quora recently posed a question: If we all end up dying, what’s the purpose of living? Here’s the top answer, picked by more than 3,500 users. The winning answer is from James Adams, who describes himself as a biology student, tutor, and transhumanist.
If we all end up dying, what’s the purpose of living?
“If you’re going to run out of cake to eat, what’s the purpose of eating cake?”
The purpose is to enjoy it. Having been served the above cake (or a flavor more to your liking, as you please), would you rebuff, “No thank you. There’s not enough of this cake to eat forever, so there’s no purpose to eating it.” Of course not! Scarcity doesn’t make it any less pleasurable.
Doesn’t that cake look delicious? So it is with life.
An excellent and eerie metaphysical mystery
Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The second of Krisi Keley’s Friar Tobias mysteries is even better than the first. Once again the author’s background in linguistics and theology provides the unique material for this superb supernatural mystery.
A man seeks Tobias’s help for his foster son. He thinks the child may have witnessed a crime, but the boy has a speech problem due to either autism or schizophrenia, so no one can understand him. Like Ms Keley, Tobias has a degree in linguistics which is why the man seeks him out. Paolo speaks in poetry and makes obscure references to what Tobias eventually figures out is an old fairy tale about a girl and her eleven brothers that are turned into swans by a wicked witch. He senses that someone is in trouble, but who?
Tobias’s friend, the psychiatrist priest, wants him to meet a mute and apparently traumatised girl who has turned up in a hospital and, in what appears to be sheer coincidence, her sketches indicate that she fills the role of the girl in the fairy tale. But where are her eleven brothers? And how does Paolo know all this? This description is a gross simplification of a story with many subtleties, but as with all good mysteries, our suspicions are aroused and the pieces come together at the end.
Ms Keley manages to imbue her mystery with more than just the supernatural. As with all her books, questions of spirituality are at the core of the story. Tobias is a staunch Catholic. He believes in leaving sex until marriage, so his girlfriend, Samantha, who he met in his last case, must wait with him, and this provides some interesting topics of conversation. The nature of the crime and how it reflects present day morals is also a matter of thought-provoking reflection on Tobias’s part, but both these issues sit quite naturally in the story simply because of who Tobias is.
Ms Keley is a master of the English language. Her prose flows beautifully (though I did find the first sentence rather a mouthful) and she expresses subtle ideas succinctly and elegantly. The characters are charming with a delightful intelligent banter between Tobias and Samantha. The plot is interesting, the pacing never languishes and the editing is sleek.
Overall the book is an excellent and eerie mystery about a sick crime that needs a little supernatural intervention to bring the perpetrator to justice. This is a wonderful example of the kind of gems you’ll only find in independent fiction. It’s an entertaining, skilfully executed mystery, but it’s also different, deep and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it for those who like private investigator stories with supernatural and metaphysical elements.
Vingede (The Friar Tobe Fairy Tale Files), by Krisi Keley
Krisi Keley, 2013
Kindle, 183 printed pages
Buy at Amazon
Best-selling author Paulo Coelho’s YouTube channel, Coehlo’s Office, offers a series of short videos explaining how he writes metaphysical novels based on his experience creating Aleph, a deeply personal novel about faith. Following are ten writing tips based on those videos.
Signs – Trust that you receive signs from a higher power, and learn to read those highly individual signs.They can guide your writing and inspire you. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
Inspiration - Inspiration comes from love. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will be inspired to share it with others. It cannot be forced; you must allow yourself to be guided by it.
Confidence - You cannot sell your next book by underrating your book that was just published. Be proud of what you have.
Trust - Trust your reader, don’t try to describe things. Give a hint and they will fulfill this hint with their own imagination.
Experience - You cannot take something out of nothing. When you write a book, use your experience.
Critics - Some writers want to please their peers, they want to be “recognized”. This shows insecurity and nothing else, please forget about this. You should care to share your soul and not to please other writers.
Notetaking - If you want to capture ideas, you are lost. You are going to be detached from emotions and forget to live your life. You will be an observer and not a human being living his or her life. Forget taking notes, what important remains what is not important goes away.
Research - If you overload your book with a lot of research, you are going to be very boring to yourself and to your reader. Books are not there to show how intelligent you are. Books are there to show your soul.
Writing - I write the book that wants to be written. Behind the first sentence is a thread that takes you to the last.
Style - Don’t try to innovate storytelling, tell a good story and it is magical. I see people trying to work so much in style, finding different ways to tell the same thing. It’s like fashion. Style is the dress, but the dress does not dictate what is inside the dress.
Many of these tips were collated by Jerome Ibuyan, with a hat tip to Aerogramme Writers’ Studio. You can follow Jerome on Twitter @Jerome_Ibuyan.
Beautifully crafted metaphysical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I picked this book up when I was searching for a definition of metaphysical fiction, and found an article by the author. I was impressed with her writing so I bought the book, and I’m very glad that I did.
Orange Petals in a Storm is the story of an eleven year old girl who has been mistreated by her stepfather since her mother’s death one year ago. On an external level, it’s a simple story about her life turning around, but it’s the inner world that gives this story its magic.
To handle the abuse, the girl sits in an old chair—all that she has left of her mother—and withdraws into her mental ‘safe room’. There, she meets the human male version of the cat that saves her when she runs away and nearly freezes to death in a storm. With him—and sometimes an old woman—as her guide she travels the web of light that makes up the connections of the inner world. The confidence and wisdom she gains from her inner travels empowers her actions in the outer world.
The inner experiences are too detailed and beautifully written for me to do them any justice in a description. It’s better you simply read the story yourself.
The book is expertly crafted, the prose beautiful and the characters well drawn. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in magical realism, metaphysical or visionary fiction.
Here is Clune’s definition of metaphysical fiction. It’s exactly what you’ll find in this book.
“Modern metaphysical/visionary literature often crosses genres and enters into the little celebrated field of magic realism. In this genre, the supernatural is part of tangible reality; spirit and nature are interwoven, inseparable, and unquestioned, and the extraordinary is made ordinary. Metaphysical literature tells tales of the inner life. Usually these tales are told simply, in prose that reaches to express the beauty inherent in us and in the world about us. Its task is to give voice to soul and its yearning to transcend the suffering of everyday reality.”
Orange Petals In A Storm (Skyla McFee Series), by Niamh Clune
Plum Tree Books, 2011
Kindle, 190 printed pages
Buy at Amazon
How do you define metaphysical fiction?
Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the second of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.
Let’s suppose, as projected in Part One of this series, “The Bucket,” that Visionary Fiction becomes as prominent a genre label as Science Fiction or Mystery. Now let’s consider the ingredients writers must put into a work to have it qualify for the Visionary Fiction bucket and what experiences or benefits readers can expect in a work pulled out of that bucket.
Arguments over some elements have raged for decades and will go on for decades more. Ours is a quantum world where every story has elements of just about every other story; but some stories have more in common than others. Here we examine the essential components, leaving the optional and controversial elements for later discussion.
In The Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success, Mark Coker states as Secret # 1: “Write a great book,” which is almost too obvious to deserve mention. Regrettably, Visionary Fiction and similar genres have attracted a disproportionate number of authors (many from other professions) with brilliant ideas but inferior writing skills, thus forcing readers to wade through a bin of sub-par products before finding something worthwhile. A few VF works with glaring deficiencies in standard fictional practice, like James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy, did rocket up the best-seller lists, propelled perhaps by novelty. This misled aspiring authors to assume that a sublime message trumps amateur writing. All elements of good fiction—language, plot, character, setting, imagery, etc.—remain prerequisites in VF. Rules, of course, can be consciously broken, but only deliberately.
In “The Puzzle of Visionary Fiction,” Hal Zina Bennet makes several points pertinent to crafting quality Visionary Fiction:
“What happens in most visionary fiction that I’ve read over the years is that it gets burdened down by the author’s desire to get readers to believe what he or she believes. Characters disappear in the author’s message, which is another way of saying that they are two-dimensional, thinly disguised vehicles that simply recite the author’s beliefs. An engaging story is simply lacking and the writing never quite brings readers into that place of wonder, fear, discovery, which might transcend simple belief systems. We try to reproduce our own spiritual experiences on the page rather than giving readers what they need to have that experience for themselves.”
Growth in Consciousness
Here is author Michael Gurian’s opening line on his pioneering VF website:
“Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.”
And the first characteristic of VF, according to the Visionary Fiction Alliance:
“Growth of consciousness is the central theme of the story and drives the protagonist, and/or other important characters.”
In “The Altered State of Visionary Fiction,” Monty Joynes writes:
“For me, the Visionary Fiction genre includes novels that deal with shifts in awareness that result in metaphysical understanding by the central characters. The plot of the novel is generally more concerned with internal experiences than with external.”
All the commentators I consulted on the basic nature of VF agree that expansion of the mind or growth in consciousness is the hallmark of Visionary Fiction.
In any credible story the characters must change, but in VF this change is from the inside out rather than from outside in. The reader sits in the co-pilot’s chair and gets to mind-read the pilot’s thoughts, intentions and decisions as they occur. He witnesses how the protagonist’s thinking influences external outcomes and how he adjusts to respond to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Growth in consciousness dictates that Visionary Fiction be optimistic. In materially based stories, birth inevitably results in death. In VF, birth begets rebirth at a higher level. Mind/consciousness development is the make-break ingredient in Visionary Fiction. If it’s missing, it’s not Visionary Fiction—it’s that simple.
The Reader Shares the Growth Experience
In “The Article that started it all,” author Jodine Turner writes:
“Visionary Fiction is like the legendary Celtic Imram [the mythical heroes’ quest]. The drama and tension of the characters’ adventures is one layer of the tale. All of the usual elements of suspense, conflict, even romance and mystery, are interwoven in the plot. The other layer, deeper and more archetypal, is that mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening. In Visionary Fiction, esoteric wisdom is embedded in story so that the reader can actually experience it, instead of merely learning about it.”
And author Margaret Duarte seconds this notion:
The reader is not only in the cockpit with access to the pilot’s thoughts; she is enticed to think along with him, then grab hold of the controls, and do some flying herself. This element, engineered into the work, is perhaps VF’s most innovative, and also its most difficult to achieve. Visionary Fiction renders the reading experience interactive. The most gratifying comments on my own VF work, The Anathemas, a novel about reincarnation, came from readers who said that my book helped them see how past life experiences influence them today, and yet the book contains no regression technique per se; readers learned through the story’s characters.
We have progressed beyond where readers can just be told (the authority paradigm);instead, give readers the bare essentials and invite them to try it (the Gnostic or experiential model). The best VF is multi-layered to suit readers at different awareness levels. A bonus: rereading such well-constructed books yields a whole different experience the second time through.
The Spiritual Component
When we speak of thoughts, ideas, visualization, consciousness, and internal growth, we are, like it or not, in the spiritual (non-material, by definition) realm rather than in the physical or empirical. The quotes above contain phrases like “metaphysical understanding” and “mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening.” The VF Alliance definition states:
“[Visionary Fiction] embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant for our modern life.”
Although it was not always so, the difference between religion and spirituality is now established:
- Religion refers to a specific set of beliefs and practices agreed upon a group of people; fiction specific to such a community is Religious Fiction.
- Spirituality is universal in embrace; consciousness, thought, visualization, and change are common to all human beings.
Because, as put by the VF Alliance, Visionary Fiction “is universal in its worldview and scope,” VF is the genre proper to spirituality. Visionary Fiction should ring as true to a Catholic as to a Buddhist, to a woman as to a man, to a heterosexual as to a homosexual, to an American as to a Polynesian. A tall order but an excellent acid test, and apropos for this age of entrenched dichotomy.
What of fiction that centers on single issues, even if from a spiritual viewpoint: recovery, women’s’ rights, political reform? Since many such topics fall into already established categories and lack the universal ingredient, they would not qualify as VF. We are looking to house orphans, not steal other people’s kids.
Just because VF has a spiritual focus does not mean it is “all sweetness and light.” As taught in Composition 101, every story requires conflict. Professor Edward Ahearn sees VF as the strident voice of protest against the stagnant status quo. Visionary writers, he says in Visionary Fictions: Apocalyptic Writing from Blake to the Modern Age (2011), seek a personal way to explode the normal experience of the “real,” using prophetic visions, fantastic tales, insane rantings, surrealistic dreams, and drug- or sex-induced dislocations in their work. Their fiction expresses rebellion against all the values of Western civilization—personal, sexual, familial, religious, moral, societal, and political. Ahearn’s “shock and awe” style of VF may be extreme, but a touch of it might prove the antidote against VF’s otherwise Milquetoast reputation.
To conclude on this vital spiritual component, we call on author Theresa Nash, who says in “How I Use Visionary Fiction And It Uses Me”:
“Visionary Fiction is about breaking the rules. It’s about remembering that we write our own stories. The true function of our stories is enabling a harmony between our condition and the Divine. They should inspire us to live our best lives, provide signposts on the journey. They should help us burst through the self-imposed bubble of our human potential to possibilities we can only imagine when we’re mired in chaos, conflict, and survival.”
The word visionary implies the ability to see beyond what can be viewed with physical sight. Growth in human consciousness demands that we transcend the five senses when assigning validity to an experience. Thus Monty Joynes can say about VF:
“The work is also ‘visionary’ in the aspect that the authors sometimes (or often) employ non-rational means such as dreams or extrasensory perceptions to develop the content of the book.”
Michael Gurian is more emphatic about this element, saying that in VF such extraordinary phenomena “not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e. without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” The VF Alliance holds that VF “oftentimes uses reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices.” In “Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth,” Hal Zina Bennett sums it up quite poetically:
“Like a shaman’s stories of the spirit world, where the spirits of animals, trees, sky, or the stars teach us how to live, visionary fiction introduces us to a reality beyond physical reality. They often carry us deep into a consciousness once thought to be the domain of seers, visionaries, oracles and psychics. The magic of this genre is the magic of human consciousness itself, our ability to see beneath the surface and create new visions of what our lives can be.”
While clumsy or exaggerated use of dreams, ghosts, telekinesis or conversations with angels can make a story far-fetched or laughable, super-sensory perceptions, used by a writer who has properly studied, experienced, or intuited such phenomena, blend into the story and move it forward as naturally as an unexpected phone call or unwelcome guest would do in a non-VF tale.
The presence of a paranormal device does not make fiction automatically visionary. A detective story in which a mentalist solves the crime is only visionary if it probed the mind of the psychic and demonstrated how his gift leads to a higher state of consciousness. On the other hand, certain literary forms like myths, fairy tales, and talking animal stories, which are generally categorized as Fantasy (wholly contrived), should not be summarily exorcised from VF; think Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Visionary Fiction is still in the “becoming” stage, still emerging as a genre distinct from its various venerable ancestors (Science Fiction, Fantasy or Religious Fiction). Although driven by the current human imperative to evolve mentally and spiritually, this genre still begs for more structure as an art form and a larger niche in the marketplace in which to house its burgeoning creative activity.
In “Part One: The Bucket,” we argued to establish a single brand name, perfect or not: Visionary Fiction. Part Two aims to initiate a vigorous buzz around the characteristics of Visionary Fiction.
In “Part Three: Visionary Fiction, the Action Plan,” we will examine practical ways the VF community can position the Visionary Fiction bucket, now chock full of goodies in high demand, so that authors can make frequent deposits with confidence in a vibrant marketplace, and readers can make regular withdrawals with a transforming experience guaranteed.
Photos by Victor E. Smith
A lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations. THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution, is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.
Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket
Visionary Fiction Part Three: The Action Plan
Charming film depicts “novel” reincarnation
I recently discovered Dean Spanley, a 2008 British film that is my second favorite metaphysical movie in recent years (after What Dreams May Come). This delightful gem of a film moved me in ways reminiscent of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Story: Dean Spanley is the very archetype of a bland churchman: affable, conventional, prudent without being a prig. Only his keen interest in the transmigration of souls and almost excessive enthusiasm for dogs betray any shadow of eccentricity. And then, richly primed with a few glasses of Imperial Tokay, he slips over the threshold between past and present and remembers an unusual reincarnation. Or are his memories no more than fancy? (from Amazon)
My take: Starring Sam Neill as the Dean, this adaptation of Irish author Lord Dunsany’s short novel My Talks with Dean Spanley illustrates with great clarity and joy the inner life of the Dean’s previous incarnation as a dog. The lush yet restrained camera work of Fiji/New Zealand director Toa Fraser paint his rich memories vividly and poignantly, set to New Zealand composer Don McGlashan’s stirring score.
Through the character played with wide-eyed brilliance by Peter O’Toole, we learn that, despite decades of grief and sorrow, one is capable of change; one can again experience joy. And that’s a message worth watching.
Although longlisted for the 2009 Orange British Film Academy Awards for Adapted Screenplay (Alan Sharp) and Supporting Actor (Peter O’Toole), the film went straight to cable in the U.S. (thank gods for Netflix).
Sweeping vistas, dotted with sheep that pop straight up like panicked cats, immerse you in the sense of what it may have been like to roam free across the woods and fields of turn-of-the-century England. In dignified, stately language appropriate for a Dean of Divinity, Mr. Stanley recounts his memories of those magical days, his grasp of time loosened by a glass of Tokay: “ . . . And then we slept, that most divine of states. The dream dreams you, rather than the other way round.”
Gentle motifs wend through the story, such as “’It’s the little things that try us,’ said the man of the pygmy judge,” along with Zen—and yet thoroughly British—observations: “There’s no point to regretting things that have gone to the trouble of happening.” These asides thread the story with dry humor and wisdom that viewers greet with both a smile and a nod of affirmation.
Just when you think the story has reached a most illuminating and satisfying conclusion, it continues on for a few more beats, culminating with an unexpected twist and a sentiment that I agree with most heartily: “As to the question of reincarnation, I resolved to wait and see, albeit with more anticipation than hitherto.”
Dean Spanley, an adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s short novel My Talks with Dean Spanley
Miramax Films, Atlantic Film Group (UK) and General Film Corporation (NZ), 2008
Running time: 100 minutes
“Enlightenment is the direct experience of being energy”
This intriguing TEDx video uses science to dissect the illusion that we are each a separate person residing in an environment. The truth is that we are “consciousness that is shaped into a human being.”
What do you think?
“We learn, from the time we’re little, the process of the scientific method–how to discover things–but we don’t teach the parallel art of how to invent things,” Stanford innovation scholar Tina Seelig says. “That’s one of the reasons creativity seems so mysterious.”
However, creativity and invention can be as simple as connecting the dots, according to Steve Jobs. Here are a few tips from Albert Einstein, Jobs, and many other creatives.
1. Einstein: Play with multiple ideas before taking action
Einstein had a delay-oriented form of problem solving: If given an hour to tackle a monstrous problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about it and five minutes putting the solution together. His approached creativity the same way.
Brain Pickings editor Maria Popova noted that Einstein thought of creativity as “combinatorial play” among the ideas brewing inside your mind. He would play with elements and concepts before attempting to put the resultant ideas into words.
2. Jobs: Collect lots of different types of experiences
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Creativity feeds on diverse experiences, or a large career vocabulary, to get enough dots to connect. “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” To accumulate more creative raw material, have more expansive experiences; for example, travel more.
In addition to collecting more experiences, you should notice more: According to Seelig, “The first step to becoming more creative is certain appreciative, inquisitive mindfulness: We need only to observe the world with acute focus.”
“When you realize that we’re influenced by so many things that we don’t even pay attention to, then you can start seeing the opportunities in your midst. If you don’t pay attention, not only do you not realize what’s affecting you, but you also don’t see the problems that can be turned into opportunities.”
4. Do a little bit every day
Every artist in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, found some way to carve out time to work, says Jessica Grose, “either in the early morning, or before binge drinking the rest of the day like Francis Bacon. In some cases, it’s not that long. Gertrude Stein would only work for 30 minutes each day. Some other writers said two to three hours every day is great, but more than that wears them out and hurts the next day’s work. But they worked at the same time every day, regardless of their other obligations.”
5. It’s the spaces between the work that matter
Many creative behaviors, Grose discovered, relate to taking breaks. “Taking a nap and drinking coffee were typical. Igor Stravinsky would do a headstand. Thomas Wolfe had the weird fondling-himself habit. Walking seems the most common, especially among composers. Composers all seemed to take a long walk every day.
6. Clean body, creative mind
Many artists used bathing habits as part of their creative process. “Beethoven would stand at the washstand and pace back and forth and then go back to the washstand and put water on himself,” says Grose. The novelist Somerset Maugham would think about the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in the bathtub in the morning. Woody Allen would give himself the chills so he wanted to take a hot shower.”
7. Always ask questions
PayPal founder Max Levchin talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm.
This slide show explores the specific creative habits of artists from poets to directors.
‘Rule of Ten’ prequel explores mysticism, mystery at monastery
Jean Bakula, guest reviewer
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Tenzing Norbu is one of the most unique fictional characters to grace a book’s pages in quite some time. The authors have collaborated on two other books about Ten, as he prefers to be called. “The First Rule of Ten” and “The Second Rule of Ten” describe his life as a private detective in Los Angeles, California, his dream job. But as a youth, Ten was groomed to be a Buddhist monk. What on Earth happened in the intervening years to change the trajectory of his life this much? We discover the truth as Ten navigates his first brush with mysticism, mystery, and perhaps even murder.
Ten’s mother Valerie, a hippie who backpacked across Europe and Asia after college, met Ten’s father, Tsewing Norbu, in India. They had a brief fling, but soon it became obvious that she and this cold, disciplined man would not be able to share a compatible life together. Young Ten spent part of the year with Valerie in Paris and part at the Dorje Yidam Monastery in Dharamshala, India, where his father served as the senior Abbot and Monastic Disciplinarian.
The Broken Rules of Ten is a prequel to the first two books, and takes place when Ten is thirteen years old and going through the confusing indignities of puberty. Poor Ten has vivid dreams of Pema, a girl his age who delivers pastries to the monastery. He often roams around outside, hoping he does not get caught. Even at this young age, we see Ten is a nonconformist and an adventurous person.
Ten’s life is unusual, to say the least. It is very confusing to spend part of the year with a drunk and stoned mother, and the other part with his Buddhist monk father. One year Valerie started sending Ten to catechism, overtaken by Catholic guilt. But Ten has trouble with any belief system that sets up rules and regulations, only to find that the rule makers do not like those who ask too many questions.
Ten feels like a misfit wherever he is, although later into his adult life, he not only comes to terms with it, but decides to embrace it while observing the Buddhist precepts. This is an aspect of the book I enjoyed as I am interested in Buddhism; it helped to see how a person incorporates the precepts into everyday life.
At Dharamshala, Ten tangles with another student, Lama Nawang Gephel, a prized scholar rumored to be heading for the highest academic honor the monastery has. It hurts Ten that his father always sings the praises of Nawang and lectures Ten about his own faults, which are really not serious. Both boys discover each other breaking the rules–Nawang smokes ganga, and Ten reads forbidden Sherlock Holmes novels.
Nawang asks Ten to be friends and Ten agrees, happy because he is usually the outsider and is shunned by many of the boys. But Nawang makes a request that causes Ten to wonder if his friendship is sincere or if he is trying to persuade Ten to do something that would get him in trouble.
During an important ceremony Nawang behaves disrespectfully and then commits a terrible act in town. Ten did nothing wrong, but his strict, unyielding father sends Ten back to Paris, not allowing Ten to take his vows. Having read the first two books, I know that Ten does not return to the monastery again; although it has a special place in his heart, he goes on to live his life outside of it.
The First Rule of Ten and The Second Rule of Ten were interesting and well plotted, and it was very enjoyable to see how Ten manages to live a full life made fuller by following the precepts of Buddhism. He has a curious and serious attitude about life, and it is a treat to see the world through the eyes of such a thoughtful person, who places so much trust in his intuition. He has some cultural gaps because of the years he lived at the monastery, but those are kind of fun.
I highly recommend all three of these books, and sincerely hope the authors continue the series! Even if you do not particularly like metaphysical topics, the books are worth reading if you like a good mystery. The authors got it right; I believe it is better to get to know Ten in his adult life and then go back to see how his childhood shaped the person he becomes.
The Broken Rules of Ten: Tenzing Norbu’s First Mystery, by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
Hay House, Inc., 2013
Kindle, 121 printed pages
Buy at Amazon
If you are interested in metaphysical topics, I have a blog at http://www.Spiritualitypathways.com and would love to see you there! I cast and interpret Astrology Horoscopes that are not computer generated, and give Tarot Readings. I also write about some metaphysical books, Astrology, the Tarot, Meditation, Chakras, Auras, Ghosts, a few of my own visions, and many other subjects. I can also be found at http://jeanbakula.hubpages.com where I have written extensively about Astrology, among other subjects.
Excerpted from High Existence.
Nietzsche and Zen: Self Overcoming Without a Self – André van der Braak
Everything you ever wanted to know about Nietzsche and Zen can be found in this magnificent book. Both Nietzsche and Zen propagate that selves don’t exist. Both deny an intrinsic order or value at the core of the cosmos. Both hold it is possible to reach a higher existence through the cultivation of the bodily drives. For zen, it is the goal of no-goal, Nirvana. For Nietzsche, it is the progression from the camel, through the lion to the child. In this fascinating book you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Nietzsche and Zen. How do we attain truth? How can we overcome ourselves if selves don’t exist? How can we break the chains of God and his Shadow? Prof. van der Braak writes eloquently when he looks at Zen through the eyes of Nietzsche and at Nietzsche through the eyes of Zen. A powerful book, a book for everyone and no-one.
“Discover the fallacies of the ego! Recognise the ego as misconception! The opposite is not to be understood as altruism! This would be love of other supposed individuals! No! Beyond “me” and “you”! Feel cosmically! -Nietzsche (KSA 9,11)”
The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West – Aldous Huxley
The bible for the enlightenment seeker, Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ is a must have for anyone who wants to understand the differences between the great religions and the same mystical ground they came from. While his main thesis is heavily debated today, this work remains a powerhouse of mind-blowing ideas. Huxley covers Zen, Hinduis, Rumi, Meister Eckhart and Taoism and discovers they share one fundamental fact – a yearning for transcendence. This is not a book to read in one go, but one to which you will return many times to ponder and re-ponder. The fascinating quotes in this book are complemented with a sharp analysis and will stay food for thought while a new light will shine on your path – the path to uno mystica! Get ‘The Perennial Philosophy‘ now.
Have you read these books? What did you think?
Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the first of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.
“We tried mightily to get the retailing powers to start a visionary fiction shelf. We came close with Walden, but the suits at B&N, alas, took the position of ‘no one is coming into the store asking for visionary fiction’,” said editor Bob Friedman of the situation as he saw it at Hampton Roads Publishing some years ago. And those who frequent this and similar websites cannot have missed that the brain storming, hand-wringing and campaigning over a proper name for our genre—what we ought to call ourselves—still continues.
Bob’s comment nails the dilemma: How can readers ask for our kind of book if they don’t know what we call it? It’s not that they don’t read in the genre (best-sellers Richard Bach, James Redfield, Hermann Hesse, Paulo Coelho, Anne Rice, and Richard Matheson are a few authors that Freidman cites as VFers). While I must presume, to write this article fairly, that the name selection process is still open, I couldn’t start writing it without adopting some sort of a moniker for it. (And, yes, my title betrays a prejudice for “visionary fiction.” To satisfy sticklers for unbiased elections, I’ll keep “visionary fiction” in lower case when not part of the title.) My need to explain myself at such length in this paragraph shows, intentionally, how complex it is to discuss a subject without a discrete name. Sadly, for we live on words, this is the situation with our genre.
For the record and to set my cred, I am a Johnny-come-lately to the novel writing profession, having spent most of my 60+ years as a generalist (see the bio on my website if you want to know more about me). Horizontal range of experience, as contrasted to the specialist’s depth, enables me to quickly recognize an area of confusion and then suggest clarification and action that brings about initial coherence.
I didn’t go looking for this mess, but I saw I stepped into a big one during my first agent interview. Brashly dismissive of traditional marketing requirements, I was actually proud that my first novel defied categorization. The agent’s opening question: “What’s your genre?” I hesitated, cleared my throat, and prepared to explain. The pitch came and went: Strike One!
Here I had blended elements of traditional history, alternative history, orthodox religion, New Age spirituality, the paranormal (dreams, extrasensory perception), and the metaphysical (reincarnation), spicing the concoction with mystery and suspense techniques—something for everyone—and here I was being told I wouldn’t get near any readers without a genre badge. My flapping wings summarily clipped, I began the search for a label worthy of my opus. This being the early 2000’s, I stumbled across Michael Gurian’s now inactive website, visionaryfiction.org, with this statement, “‘Visionary fiction’ is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” Hmm, I thought, that works. He then prefaced a long list of recommended ingredients with: “In visionary fiction, the following sorts of things not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e., without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” As I read his list, I got excited: my novel, The Anathemas, had enough of his suggested elements to be a veritable visionary fiction fruitcake: mystical experiences, visions, clusters of eerie coincidence, past life realization, to name a few.
Elated to have found the perfect label, I plastered “Visionary Fiction” all over my query letters and summaries. That would do the trick—NOT. Turns out it only made it easier for prospective agents to pick the appropriate rejection slip: “We’re sorry, but we do not represent works in your genre. In our experience it has proven not to sell well.” A swing this time, but a miss. Strike Two.
But not out yet. In the ensuing decade, technology came to the rescue, and I paid an inexpensive print-on-demand publisher to produce and distribute the hard copy of the novel and later plodded through Amazon’s cryptic instructions to post a Kindle version. Self-marketing, once anathema to the creative (and often cash-impaired) writer, became tolerable through a website, chat groups and other virtually free forms of social media. I bit the bullet and devoted some of my scarce writing time to ad copy and on-line conversations. Wonder of wonders, I discovered other writers out there who wrote and other readers who read “visionary fiction,” albeit under various names: metaphysical, spiritual, New Age, alternative, even defaulting to literary, paranormal and fantasy in cases.
Then earlier this year (2013) I happened across an intrepid gang of authors, mostly women I noticed, who had formed the Visionary Fiction Alliance with objectives I could align with:
- Increase awareness of the genre
- Help readers to discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction
- Mentor new writers who wish to explore this genre
- Provide resources for writers of Visionary Fiction
- Be a place where readers can find Visionary Fiction books and engage in discussion with the authors
It wasn’t a home run, but my third swing got me on base with a cast capable of pushing some runs across batting behind me. They had already christened themselves the Visionary Fiction Alliance. Visionary Fiction was emblazoned on their team jerseys and even painted on their water bucket. I got me one of those shirts and put it on.
But…but…but—I can hear it starting again. Maybe, we should call ourselves New Age, or Metaphysical or Spiritual or Gnostic (a favorite of mine) or Alternative or some compound thereof. To which I respond in the words of PJ Swanwick: “Does the name even matter as much as getting readers to identify with it…the really, really big issue is ‘How do we make it go viral?’ Let’s just pick one and stick to it.”
Case closed? Case closed. Let’s paint VISIONARY FICTION in bold red letters on our genre buckets and be done with it. Don’t worry, the fun (argument) is not over. But that’s for part two of this article: “What Goes in the Bucket?” At least, while we’re thrashing around in there, we’ll have a name for what we’re talking about.
But now, jump in, grab a brush, and splash your signature on the Visionary Fiction bucket by replying in the Comments section below. Then, let’s get on with it. As most of us already know: We have work to do!
A lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations. THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution, is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.
Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket
Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes in the Bucket?
Visionary Fiction Part Three: Practical Action Plan
Charming novel blends romance with spirituality
Carolyn Mathews’ story of love, loss, and spiritual transformation is a moving romance novel that balances both themes to create a delightful, insightful read.
Story: You don’t have to be a New Age flower-child to enjoy Pandora’s visits from a spectral guru who unexpectedly comes to call. She’s a newly single lady of a certain age, who’s torn between what’s best for her body and what’s best for her soul. Can her spiritual coach help her satisfy both her spiritual and romantic desires? (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Pandora gets involved in metaphysics via her free-spirited mother, exposed at an early age to the world of Transcendental Meditation, chakras, crystals, and the like. Later she returns to her spiritual roots, using meditation to help cope with her husband’s death.
She discovers Enoch, a channeled spirit whom Pandora evokes through automatic writing, who guides her toward her spiritual goal. The novel explores Pandora’s spiritual awakening as she evolves into an enlightened soul. Mathews does a good job of identifying basic Buddhist precepts and other spiritual traditions and then weaving them into her story.
Circumstances and Enoch conspire to direct Pandora toward becoming a soul who can transform heavy energies such as grief and despair into hope and anticipation. Her divine mission is to listen to others and give them hope at an energetic level through her heart chakra; indeed, the source of her name means “hope.
My take: Transforming Pandora is first and foremost is a love story, detailing all the pain and drama that goes with it, but Pandora has a very unique guide to help her make sense of her life in her later years. Pandora’s memoir jumps forward and back in time, chronicling her emotional highs and lows as she loses, then finds, and again loses the love of her life. At the same time, Pandora’s complicated story details how she finds, then loses, and again finds her life partner.
She learns through her own unhealthy entanglements how to build good relationships based on truth and keeping promises. With her angels’ help, she heals herself and her relationships so that she may go on to help heal others.
Mathews is a talented writer, adroitly balancing the emotional and spiritual themes that drive this multi-layered metaphysical romance. A rich cast of characters supplement the basic love story and keep the plot moving. In addition, Mathews does an excellent job keeping the reader on track as we time travel between Pandora’s loves and losses. Whether you’re looking for romance or spiritual guidance, this well-written novel of love and rebirth satisfies both.
Transforming Pandora, by Carolyn Mathews
Roundfire Books, 2012
Paperback, 345 pages
Buy at Amazon
Rod Pennington didn’t set out to write an international bestseller. The Fourth Awakening novel was initially a marketing “tool” to identify spiritually advanced research participants for Jeffery A. Martin’s neuroscience research into non-symbolic consciousness. The first novel was so successful, however, it spawned a sequel (The Gathering Darkness) and The Fourth Awakening Chronicles, whose third installment was released recently.
How did a spiritual/metaphysical novel written to entice research participants end up No. 1 four years running in Amazon Kindle’s New Age/Mysticism category? It’s all Pennington’s fault. The veteran writer of multiple books and screenplays knew about Martin’s research into persistent non-dual awareness (also called enlightenment, persistent mystical state, transcendental consciousness). Martin, an interdisciplinary research professor who’s worked at Harvard, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the Center for International Studies in California, just to name a few, was having difficulty locating subjects with deep meditation and consciousness-altering skills for his latest research project.
According to Martin, Pennington came up with the approach: “One of the ideas that Rod had was ‘Hey, let’s write a book to do this. Maybe we create a fiction book, [because] fiction is something that’s read very broadly across the population. And if we weave enough stuff into that fiction book that resonates with people, these people will probably come out and contact us.’” Not long after The Fourth Awakening’s initial publication in 2009, Martin had his research subjects and Pennington had an international bestseller on his hands.
What is the Fourth Awakening?
The premise of The Fourth Awakening is that humanity has experienced three critical awakenings and is on the verge of another. Awakenings occur when something so profoundly changes the world that all of the old rules no longer apply. A powerful new order arrives, completely unexpected and without warning, and things are never the same again.
The First Awakening occurred approximately 200,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens emerged in East Africa, but it took another 150,000 years for things to begin to get interesting.
The Second Awakening saw Homo Sapiens become self aware. We developed spoken language, art in the form of cave paintings and crude figurines, and most importantly, a grasp of the spiritual nature of the world and ourselves. Fourteen thousand years ago, the recognizably modern forms of farming, metallurgy, ship building, and astrology all emerged at around the same time worldwide.
The Third Awakening began around 3,000 years ago with the rise of all modern religions as well as science. Between 800 – 400 BC, there was a religious explosion. The key events in the Old Testament occurred, from which emerged Judeo/Christian beliefs. At the same time, Taoism was followed by Confucianism in China, Shintoism in Japan, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, and later Islam. For the past 500 or so years the political power of religion has waned while the power of science has flourished. Knowledge hit a tipping point about 150 years ago. Universities began to switch from religious institutions to being based on the German research model. During the Third Awakening, the written word became increasingly commonplace.
The Fourth Awakening brings a new mode of being with it, one that goes beyond symbols and thought. According to Pennington and Martin, the number of individuals who can reach a state of non-symbolic thought (aka enlightenment) has reached critical mass. Their book likens this state to the Internet–a giant field of energy, full of information, open to anyone who has the right connection. For more, see the authors’ website.
How has Martin’s research shaped the series?
Working worldwide with over a thousand individuals skilled at achieving non-symbolic states of consciousness, Martin has identified a number of Enlightened Archetypes. The Fourth Awakening Chronicles is a series of short novellas based on the characters and concepts explored in The Fourth Awakening and its sequel. Each novella features a person who has arrived at the Fourth Awakening. These Enlightened Archetypes include a world-class poker player who suddenly abandons the game, and a successful top executive who must leave his family to pursue enlightenment (as the Buddha did).
But where have these extraordinary people gone? In the Chronicles, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Penelope Drayton Spence has been hired by two of the world’s richest men to interview enlightened people who may have arrived at the Fourth Awakening. The problem is, as fast she can locate a potential candidate, they have a nasty habit of mysteriously vanishing. While each Chronicle is a stand-alone episode that can be read independently, it is a part of a much larger and continuing story.
If you would like to learn more about or participate in Jeffery A. Martin’s research into non-symbolic consciousness, visit NonSymbolic.org.
Fascinating metaphysical mystery echoes acclaimed Rule of Ten series
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Mereritt by Krisi Keley is a beautifully written, extraordinary and fascinating metaphysical mystery that is a great read for anyone who likes a supernatural mystery. It will particularly appeal to anyone who likes a bit of meat in their fiction and especially those interested in philosophy, which is seamlessly woven into the story.
Even the mystery itself is of a metaphysical nature. Four girls have the same nightmares, see ghostly visions and are involved in strange accidents, one of them is in a coma. The question is, is someone trying to hurt them, or are they just mentally unstable? It’s not a case the police can do anything about, so one of the girl’s mother seeks out the local private investigator, Friar Tobe, as he is known.
Tobias isn’t a Friar. He left the order before completing his novitiate, but he is a Christian with a clearly profound faith who had been on his way to becoming a Brother, and the locals have taken to referring to him as Friar Tobe. In this way, he is the Christian equivalent of Tenzin from the Rule of Ten books by Gay Hendricks. Tenzin is an ex-Buddhist monk and also a PI but his cases are more of a worldly nature.
Tobias is a likeable character, open-minded, self-aware, intelligent and with a highly refined wit that is shared by the equality intelligent female lead, Samantha. She is one of the four eighteen-year-olds involved in the case, and she flirts with him. He finds her enchanting, but since she is a client, he mustn’t fall for her, a fact that adds a nice undercurrent of sexual tension to the story.
Ms. Keley is a consummate story teller, and this book, like her On the Soul of a Vampire series, has a symbolic aspect, in this case in the shared nightmare. Tobias must piece together all the threads of a mystery that operates on the mental, physical and spiritual planes and that calls for his knowledge of linguistics and his understanding of the spiritual dimension.
All the characters are well-fleshed out and believable ( Sam is more mature than many eighteen-year-olds but not unrealistically so), and another particularly likeable character is Father Mike. The relationship between the two men has the light touch that comes from a long and close friendship.
This is an entertaining and enjoyable mystery, but it is also much more. It is also a thought-provoking exploration of divine justice and redemption, a particularly wonderful book for those with an interest in philosophy, for Ms. Keley has a degree in theology. She knows her stuff and it shows. This is the finest kind of metaphysical fiction in that the philosophy and its world view are not only inseparable from the story, but also are fully researched and don’t in any way impinge upon or overpower the storyline. So it can be enjoyed on many levels; the kind of book that feeds your mind and soul, and perhaps even opens your heart somewhat.
It is also flawlessly edited, not a typo or grammatical error in sight. Highly recommended.
Mareritt, by Krisi Keley
Krisi Keley, 2013
Kindle, 204 printed pages
Buy at Amazon
|Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Marc Lesser, CEO of SIYLI, Zen priest, and author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself.For most of my life I did not think of myself as creative at all. Then, many years ago, I started a greeting card company, despite that I had rarely purchased or sent greetings cards. My motivation was combining business with taking care of the environment, by making products from recycled paper. I found myself in a role where I needed to be very creative – in developing new products as well as how to distribute products. I also found that the act of leadership – my perspective about my role and the company’s strategy required tremendous creativity.
Creativity is important for many reasons. It is a path and process for not getting stuck in old habits and ineffective ways of seeing yourself and the world. Creativity can help with problem solving, with creating healthier relationships, and with having a healthier and happier life.
What I learned is that creativity isn’t something that you have or don’t have. It is something that you can nurture and develop. Most importantly, creativity can be a practice. This is especially true for me in my current role (as the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute) of helping business leaders to be both more effective and happy.
Here are the 6 steps that I began using, and find I’m using every day, not only in my work but especially in my relationships and my life outside of work These practices can be used to support the changing of habits and creating new habits. I’d suggest making the practice of creativity a habit that can support other habits. Here are some guidelines:
Being more creative is a practice, a habit, and a process. A good way to begin is to notice how creative babies and young children are. Just the act of crawling, walking, and exploring can be enormously creative. Creativity is easy – just let yourself be more childlike, curious, open, and start by exploring any of the six practices I’ve outlined.
Marc Lesser is author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself: Five Truths To Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Everyday Life. He is the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) and leads a weekly meditation group in Mill Valley.
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Simultaneous lifetimes give reincarnation novel a fresh feel
What if you could go back and try, again and again, until you got it right? The Groundhog Day premise of “Unison” is familiar, but Papanou keeps it fresh with a futuristic utopian/dystopian setting and some visionary plot twists.
Story: Illness has been eradicated in Unity thanks to a healing implant, and criminals are cured with virtual reality therapy. In this seemingly idyllic community, Damon 1300-333-1M is condemned to relive his life until he uncovers a suppressed memory. Attempting to help him remember his clouded past is a woman who communicates with him in visions and dreams, but a frightening premonition keeps diverting him to a cabin where a dangerous encounter leads to his friend’s death. The tragedy will play out for lifetimes to come and open his eyes to the truth about Unity and himself. To break the endless cycle of his life, Damon must confront his darkest fears and unveil a memory that’s too painful to remember. Only then can he discover an even more profound truth that expands beyond his mind and the Universe. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Ultimate karma in real time gives this spiritual/metaphysical/visionary novel its structure and theme. In Unison, karma plays out in the form of a single lifetime that loops again and again, and certain characters have the ability to remember the lessons from previous lifetimes (eventually). The idea is that, not only does fate or destiny or karma affect serial lifetimes, it also affects a single lifetime replayed many times, allowing us to make key decisions over and over again until we are satisfied with the outcome.
Papanou tackles that fine line between individual choice and predetermination and tries to demonstrate how both can exist in parallel–all with a careful emphasis on avoiding freighted words specific to religions, such as karma, God, reincarnation, etc. In keeping with the futuristic setting of the novel, she instead chooses analogies that evoke technology such as uploads and downloads of memory at death and birth.
Fresh metaphors illuminate the spiritual theme, such as music. One character in the orchestra with Damon is uncomfortable with the idea of fate or destiny–”the idea of being played by a hand I can’t see.” Damon replies that we actually “play” ourselves. Everyone has their own constant frequency that exists forever within the grand symphony of the “Progenitor.” Each string vibrates independently, but the tones resonate in unison. Each individual’s frequency is endless, and every unique tune, so to speak, is downloaded at birth in a constant cycle of life.
Damon exemplifies a principle that is laid clear by the structure of this novel: “What keeps me going is that with each passing lifetime, I realize how little I know–how little anyone knows. The quest for understanding the implications of that truth is both maddening and thrilling. . . . It’s a constant reminder to me of what if means to be free.”
My take: Despite taking the time to replay eight of Damon’s lives, Unison is tautly written and engrossing. A multitude of finely drawn and fascinating characters enliven Damon’s journeys at every turn. Papanou’s world is just as finely detailed, veering from utopian to dystopian and then to something beyond them both as the world and the characters evolve. The ending feels a bit rushed, but perhaps that’s understandable since The Spheral appears to be a series.
An interesting aspect of this reincarnation novel is that it deliberately avoids religious overtones. It simply presents the structure of the universe(s) in such a way that seemingly mystical events (such as living multiple, simultaneous lives) are easily explainable because of the laws of that universe. The reader learns about esoteric practices and principles without the obscuring layer of religion that so often fracture universal truths instead of reveal their logic and uniformity. As do the characters in this well-crafted, fascinating book, you get to choose what to make of it yourself.
Unison (The Spheral), by Eleni Papanou
Philophrosyne Publishing, 2013
Paperback, 563 pages
Buy at Amazon
Quirky spiritual novel is short on tale, long on charm
Charming and life affirming, “The Dalai Lama’s Cat” is perfect for a sunny afternoon when you want a quick read that reminds you of what’s truly important. Written from the cat’s perspective, this spiritual/metaphysical novel explores how the simplest of actions–even a cat’s–can lead to spiritual growth.
Story: Starving and pitiful, a mud-smeared kitten is rescued from the slums of New Delhi and transported to a life she could have never imagined. In a beautiful sanctuary overlooking the snow-capped Himalayas, she begins her new life as the Dalai Lama’s cat.
Warmhearted, irreverent, and wise, this cat of many names opens a window to the inner sanctum of life in Dharamsala. A tiny spy observing the constant flow of private meetings between His Holiness and everyone from Hollywood celebrities to philanthropists to self-help authors, the Dalai Lama’s cat provides us with insights on how to find happiness and meaning in a busy, materialistic world. Her story will put a smile on the face of anyone who has been blessed by the kneading paws and bountiful purring of a cat. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Because she belongs to the Dalai Lama, this cat of many names decides she should reflect the spiritual nature of the Jokhang Buddhist temple. The novel revolves around the teachings from the Dalai Lama and other household members, which apply to both visitors and the observant cat. We learn along with “His Holiness’s Cat” the value in very life (even cockroaches), compassion for mice, mindfulness in all things, how self-development can lead to self-absorption (and hairballs), the perils of attachment (gluttony, in her case), how karma works, how to meditate and more on her way to becoming a “bodhicatva.”
The cat comes to understand that ” . . . it is not so much the circumstances of our lives that make us happy or unhappy but the way we see them,” and the wonderful paradox that “. . . the best way to achieve happiness for oneself is to give happiness to others.”
The lessons are simple, typically taught to a visitor which the cat then applies to her own life; it is an effective way to learn the basic precepts of Buddhism. Michie incorporates a bit of neuroscience research that validates the benefits of mindfulness and meditation and the science behind Buddhism to make the principles more palatable to the western reader.
My take: Michie’s approach to this novel was clever. Many readers are entranced by the day-to-day experiences of famous people and their pets, even though the experiences themselves are quite mundane. But you won’t need bombs and car chases to keep turning the pages; the combination of cute cat, a world-renowned holy man, and a liberal dose of spiritual wisdom is quite enjoyable.
The theme-driven plot is thin; events happen mostly to illustrate a spiritual lesson. However, several characters in town are developed to show their growth over time, which makes for a satisfying ending. The conflicts are minor, and the triumphs are small steps for both the human characters and the cat. But isn’t life like that? We experience one small hurt at a time and grow–or retreat–depending on the story we create about that event. The sometimes-quirky story reminds us that every thought and action matters. Michie’s Buddhist novel will not keep you on the edge of your seat, but you will close the book with a satisfied smile.
The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie
Hay House Visions, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages
Buy at Amazon
From David Foster Wallace, four minutes of wisdom:
In 1996, Leonard Lopate at WNYC interviewed David Foster Wallace about Infinite Jest, the 1,079-page novel that catapulted Wallace into literary fame. Now Blank on Blank and animator Patrick Smith have teamed up with PBS Digital Studios to bring Wallace’s views on writing, ambition, and education to life. This four-minute clip highlights how Wallace views perfectionism.
Perfectionism is dangerous, states Wallace:
“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.”
Artist Julia Cameron agrees:
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.”
Anna Quindlen offers the best reason to give up trying to be perfect:
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
Her words perfectly express why we are here–not to get it right, but to get to the truth of ourselves.
What have you given up in a quest to get it “right”?
Metaphysical novel serves up a feast for the senses
Kay Goldstein’s “Star Child” is lovely, not only for its elegant prose and theme but also for the novel’s beautiful design and craftsmanship. Rich with metaphorical and literal imagery, this slim novel is a delightful read and a feast for the senses.
Story: Imagine two mystical and mysterious beings descend from the heavens. What could their journey on earth possibly teach us? Only what it means to be truly human. And that is the greatest lesson of all. Terra and Marius are star children, heavenly beings who come to earth with all their special wisdom and powers to live as human beings in a faraway time and place. Like all modern youth, they face the challenges of fear, loneliness, the need to please, and the stigma of showing their true selves when they do not fit in with those around them. Betraying their own hearts, each gives up or misuses the very things that make them unique. In this universal and touching tale of love and loss, young adults and old souls will treasure their encounter with the star children on their magical journey back to themselves and each other. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Although the heroine and hero are described as “star children,” they are not alien beings; they are evolved humans we all aspire to become. Their challenges create an immediate connection with the reader because we have all faced the same emotional and physical hardships. They learn as we learn–sometimes painfully, sometimes with gentle guidance.
A wise character makes a simple comment, but it captured my attention in a very profound way: “Once I had seen myself, I could not pretend to be someone else.” This short spiritual novel‘s sparse, Zen-like narrative touched me in a way that a 100,000-word epic could not have.
My take: Goldstein’s wonderful sense of voice makes her words fly off the page to create three-dimensional events that feel like tart lemonade on a scorching day. The story is simple but powerful, with vivid, visceral images that bring to mind Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.
I won’t spoil the brief, simple, but ever-so-satisfying epilogue for you. Suffice to say, it does what every good ending should do: Offer a heart-lifting conclusion, touch lightly upon the depth and insight of the theme, and weave its very specific message into the fabric of the wider world. The epilogue’s beautiful prose and illustration complement each other splendidly. I closed Star Child‘s perfectly crafted pages with a satisfied sigh and immediately turned to Amazon to find another Kay Goldstein book. No more novels, alas, but a book of recipes and stories called Book of Feasts–a perfect description for this book as well.
Star Child, by Kay Goldstein
Vineyard Stories, 2012
Hardcover, 81 pages
Buy at Amazon
Surprising video about the beauty others see in you–well worth three minutes of your time.
Do you see the beauty in you?
If God doesn’t believe in Himself, what about us?
Would you like to have a real conversation with God? Not the reasonable, polished, Neale Donald Walsch kind, but a no-holds-barred, “What the hell?” kind of conversation. If so, “God Is an Atheist” by N. Nosirrah (really) may be the story for you.
Story: A profoundly funny romp through religion, spirituality, and the contemporary clash of cultures of belief, with special attention to the human obsession with knowing what can’t be known. Nosirrah provokes just about everyone as he describes a world where God is on the run from Islamic extremists, the Pope announces he shares a bed with Richard Dawkins, and Buddha’s son disappoints by getting enlightened instead of becoming a doctor. To say this novella is strange might give the reader a way to relate to it, but in fact, nothing will shift the burden away from the reader. In its pages, the world is bent around the reader’s mind until either the mind itself begins to bend, or indeed, breaks. A book without plot, characters, structure, or obvious purpose, this is an endless descent into the netherworlds of a dystopian mind. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. There is so much spiritual wisdom in this novella, spilling out of every page and paragraph. There’s no way to do justice to either the author’s depth of insight or the mind-confounding presentation, so here’s a random sampling of Nosirrah’s and God’s thoughts.
God is I AM–everything, all inclusive. Men try to parse the whole of God into smaller, more manageable chunks, which is why religions can seem schizophrenic. Most people can’t listen–just listen–to each other, the birds, the creek, our own bodies. We hear only the parts we like, and we form God’s voice and our beliefs based on that part instead of on the whole.
Having faith requires an anchor or foundation, something upon which to construct our beliefs. But relying on anchors (for example, religious dogma) doesn’t teach us about the actual world; we just know a great deal about what we already know. Letting go of our answers, accepting that we cannot know, is much harder. But that’s where God is.
God doesn’t believe in Himself, or even believe in belief. All of our believing has caused humanity nothing but problems, God says. He’d like to see a human culture beyond belief. As Nosirrah puts it, “A believer will destroy God and himself before he’ll let go of his beliefs.” In one scene, no one can see God when He approaches them because “each of us is captured by what we know and we organize reality to fit it.”
My take: This novella, a series of vignettes and soliloquies, attempts to have no plot, no protagonist, no conflict to resolve. But we as readers can’t help ourselves–we must weave stories together to make sense of our world. Nosirrah’s thesis explores this potent theme of story. “Do not under any circumstances believe the story of your life . . . Everything is story, everything is constructed.” Original sin, says Nosirrah, is feeling safe by making up a nice story. We are addicted to the narrative of our lives. We will tell any tale to make the world make sense.
As an author, Nosirrah is a bit heavy handed, prone to digression, hubris, and self-aggrandizement, but his style is nicely leavened by a generous helping of humor. As a metaphysical novel, God is an Atheist packs a strangely powerful punch. The lack of story forces us to engage more, to make up our own stories to explain what is happening–and that just proves Nosirrah’s point.
God Is an Atheist: A Novella for Those Who Have Run Out of Time, by N. Nosirrah
Sentient Publications, 2008
Paperback, 119 pages
Buy at Amazon
Vivekananda: The monk who inspired Americans from J.D. Salinger to Nikola Tesla
Although J.D. Salinger of “The Catcher in the Rye” fame published his last story in 1965, he did not stop writing. From the early 1950s until his death in 2010, he corresponded with monks and fellow devotees of Swami Vivekananda of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York. Vivekananda’s amazing century-long influence on Salinger and other prominent writers, thinkers, and artists is splendidly chronicled by A. L. Bardach in The Wall Street Journal.
The central, guiding light of Salinger’s spiritual quest was the teachings of Vivekananda, the Calcutta-born monk who popularized Vedanta and yoga in the West at the end of the 19th century. “Franny and Zooey” is saturated in Vedantic thought and references. Salinger confided . . . that he intentionally left a trail of Vedantic clues throughout his work from “Franny and Zooey” onward, hoping to entice readers into deeper study.
Although he experimented with Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s, Salinger settled on Vedanta. ”Unlike Zen,” Salinger’s biographer, Kenneth Slawenski, points out, “Vedanta offered a path to a personal relationship with God . . . [and] a promise that he could obtain a cure for his depression . . . and find God, and through God, peace.” Salinger’s “ferocious literary ambition” was completely replaced by his spiritual quest, led by Vivekananda.
Vivekananda, a Bengali monk, introduced the word “yoga” to the West. In 1893 he spoke at the Parliament of Religions, convened in Chicago as a spiritual complement to the World’s Fair. His impact was huge, wrote Annie Besant, a British Theosophist and a conference delegate. She described Vivekananda’s impact, writing that he was “a striking figure, clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere of Chicago.” The Parliament, she said, was “enraptured; the huge multitude hung upon his words.” When he was done, the convocation cheered him thunderously.
“No doubt the vast majority of those present hardly knew why they had been so powerfully moved,” Christopher Isherwood wrote a half century later, surmising that a “strange kind of subconscious telepathy” had infected the hall, beginning with Vivekananda’s first words, which have resonated, for some, long after.
When asked about the origins of “My Sweet Lord,” George Harrison said that “the song really came from Swami Vivekananda, who said, ‘If there is a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it.’ “
Vedanta teachings are rooted in the Vedas, ancient scriptures going back several thousand years that also inform Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The Vedic texts present the idea that God is everywhere, in all things. Vivekananda’s genius was to simplify Vedantic thought to a few accessible teachings that Westerners found irresistible.
‘He is the most brilliant wise man,’ Leo Tolstoy gushed. ‘It is doubtful another man has ever risen above this selfless, spiritual meditation.’
Vivekananda’s teaching had profound influences on Harvard professor William James, his brother Henry, and a plethora of contemporary intellectuals from Gertrude Stein to John D. Rockefeller. The great actress Sarah Bernhardt became lifelong friends with him and introduced him to the electromagnetic scientist Nikola Tesla, who was struck by Vivekananda’s knowledge of physics. Both recognized they shared the same ideas on energy but used different languages to describe it. Tesla would cite the monk’s contributions in his pioneering research of electricity.
Vivekananda’s influence broadened well into the mid-20th century, shaping the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Henry Miller, among others. Then he fell out of favor.
He seemed to go into eclipse in the West. American baby boomers—more disposed to “doing” than “being”—have opted for “hot yoga” classes over meditation. At some point, perhaps in the 1980s, an ancient, profoundly antimaterialist teaching had morphed into a fitness cult with expensive accessories.
To read more about Vivekananda’s profound influence on America, read Bardach’s full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303404704577305581227233656.html#ixzz2Oaj3dSxz
Unexpectedly entertaining spiritual novel is a treat to read
Strickland is a terrific writer. For a slim spiritual novel, Down at the Golden Coin packs a mighty punch in terms of writing, great storytelling, and insightful, funny dialogue. Down at the Golden Coin is a great read, no matter where you are on your own spiritual path.
Story: During the horrible recession, former airline pilot, Annie Mullard, feels she has sunk to a new low when she’s forced to go to a run-down laundromat, the Golden Coin, after her washing machine breaks, but it’s here she meets a messiah. Even though twenty-something, blue-haired Violet can read minds, send Annie into past lives and levitate Tide, she isn’t anyone’s idea of a messiah. Yet Violet is equipped with the wisdom, love and humor to help Annie find a way to a more authentic life, one in which Annie is free to create her own reality and where money is not the key to happiness. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Violet is Annie’s own personal messiah, literally the answer to Annie’s prayers. Violet passes along the usual advice such as creating your own reality, but she grounds the spiritual lessons in physical existence by transporting Annie into past, present, and future incarnations to illustrate her points. For instance, she helps Annie rediscover the feeling of joy by taking her back to a previous life; Annie is supposed to carry this gift forward into her current reality, but she’s not quite as compliant as Violet would like. Annie apparently needs to learn the hard way, remaining closed and cynical. Strickland deftly uses Annie’s rich internal monologue to thoroughly immerse readers in her world of financial despair, cheating husbands, and out-of-touch children. The past life interludes are exquisite, beautifully framing the story and illustrating how we repeat what we choose not to learn.
Violet’s messiah is truly original. Rather than being above the fray while dispensing her advice, she bullies, sympathizes, and whines right along with Annie. Her life is no piece of cake either. Her greatest frustration is that people don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives; they just want God to fix everything. Says Violet, “Apparently no one likes ‘do-it-yourself’ when it comes to the spiritual realm.”
My take: Violet meets Annie at the Golden Coin laundomat, an unusual and inspired setting for the story–no matter how bad she wants to get way from Violet’s spiritual self-help prattle, Annie can’t leave until her multiple loads of laundry are done. In addition, the setting is a natural place to find quirky, colorful supporting characters that provide a nice foil for the pair.
Strickland has created strong female characters to carry the plot: Annie, bowed by financial and filial pressures, and Violet, her personal messiah. Annie has nearly given up and sounds petulant occasionally, but she represents of the voices of millions of people in the same situation when they hear yet another new-thought aphorism. She articulates what we would all like to say. For instance, “Happiness is not a choice. Don’t you think if it were a choice, everyone would choose it?” And tiny, punked-out Violet always has a reasonable answer: “Not everyone knows how to choose it.” When they talk about money, Violet notes that money can’t buy happiness. What money can do is buy choices. “And when you have choices, that can make you happy.”
The give-and-take between Annie and Violet could have easily slipped into dull preaching and whiny complaining, but Strickland gets around that common problem by injecting a healthy dose of skeptical humor, great intelligence, and brutal honesty. Together they dissect common metaphysical misconceptions such as The Secret and identify where the rhetoric disconnects from reality. But the tone is breezy and conversational, firmly grounded in the physical world. The ending is predictable but still satisfying, with a nice little twist that leaves you smiling. I highly recommend this spiritual novel as a fun, fast read that’s surprisingly captivating.
Down at the Golden Coin, by Kim Strickland
Eckhartz Press, 2012
Paperback, 172 pages
Buy at Amazon
The Eastern principle of compassion is spiritually more mature than the Western principles of love and forgiveness in terms of social interaction. In short, in order to love and forgive you must believe that you and I are separate and that I can judge you. For example, I feel superior to you because I love and forgive you whether you deserve it or not. In Buddhism, however, there is no place for judgment. In order to feel compassion, you must recognize that there is no separation between you and the person you are interacting with, which requires a higher level of spiritual maturity.
Love and forgiveness beget judgment
Many people say that the primary (and some say, only) rule of Christianity is Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31–”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which includes love and forgiveness. The two cannot be separated. In order to love unconditionally, you also must forgive unconditionally. However, forgiveness requires separation, which opens the door to judgment: God says I must love and forgive you–even you haven’t earned it–so I can become a better person. You bestow your love and forgiveness upon others as if it were a gift, and in return you feel superior. For spiritually immature individuals, then, forgiveness legitimizes judgment and feeds the ego’s desire to feel righteous and superior.
The emotions of separation and judgment are present when a parent teaches a child to love and forgive. Children learn to act as if they love and forgive, and their reward is parental approval and a sense of superiority. This relationship of the Father to his children is key in Christianity.
Compassion, however, is what the parent feels for the child. As a parent, of course you love and forgive your child. That is never in question. Your children are part of you, and you are part of them. A well-adjusted parent cannot not feel love and forgiveness, no matter what the child does.
Mature spiritual growth, then, means to evolve beyond God-as-Father and be the Father/parent–”be as God” (Genesis 3:5). Spiritually evolved individuals are able to experience compassion, for they recognize we are all connected. We are all part of each other, the world, and the universe, as the parent and child are part of each other. Therefore there is no need to give love and forgiveness, because those emotions are implicit when all things are connected.
Buddhism embodies compassion
A more profound spiritual growth is required to practice compassion. In Tibetan Buddhism, compassion is defined as wanting others to be free from suffering; the Latin word for “compassion” means “co-suffering” (Wikipedia). To be compassionate, you must feel empathy and recognize that there is no separation between you and the person you are interacting with. Everyone is on the same long journey of self-discovery; we all have made the same mistakes, and we all are doing the best that we can at this time.
Of course, the world is full of many spiritually evolved Christians (and atheists, and Muslims and so on), and they interact at the level of compassion.
How to live in compassion
When you meet someone and become frustrated or angered, you remember that, not only does a deep connection bind you both in the way a parent is bonded with a child, but you also understand, at the deepest level in your being, that you are that other person: At some point in the infinite universe, you have shared the same breath, the same physical space, the same atoms. And at some point in your infinite lifetimes, you have been that person: the zealot warrior, abusive husband, conniving merchant. You comprehend that you truly are that person (although not in this time or space) and you do not judge that person or see them as separate from yourself.
You understand what drives people at the core of their being, and you remember that you have experienced those motivations as well. You empathize deeply with them and feel overwhelming compassion–the same compassion you feel when you witness your children learn a difficult lesson.
Compassion sometimes means not interfering
You may wish you could lessen another person’s suffering. But you know you cannot, the same way you know you cannot take away the pain of your child’s first love, or rejection, or failure. You know they must experience those emotions and resolve the conflict themselves in order to learn. And all you can do is empathize with them, understand their missteps, and love them with all your being.
But you also experience their successes and their joys. As such, every interaction with every living thing is filled with pain and suffering but also with love, triumph, appreciation. And you focus on the good, and recognize that often the best way to help is to not interfere in their journey.
A note from PJ: This is the first time I’ve ventured into expressing my own openions. Am I off base? I’d love some feedback on this notion. Thanks, all.
Here are my top ten picks for spiritual fiction–novels where the story and characters are so engaging that the reader experiences spiritual awareness and growth, in whatever form, in concert with the characters–by authors you’ve (mostly) never heard of.
- Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox–Northern Ireland reincarnation saga
- First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay–Buddhist detective mystery
- Deshi by John Donohue–Gritty yet lyrical Zen police procedural
- Yü: A Ross Lamos Mystery by Joy Shayne Laughter–Gay Buddhist Chinese reincarnation historical
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman–Metaphysical mystery/thriller that defies explanation
- Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn by Nell Gavin–English historical drama
- Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman–Clear-eyed chicklit travelogue of India’s enlightenment industry
- The Fourth Awakening by Rod Pennington and Jeffery A. Martin–Metaphysical thriller
- Buddha Da by Anne Donovan–Contemporary literary novel set in Glasgow
- Jake Fades by David Guy–Buddhist literary novel
Guest post by by Rod Pennington, coauthor of The Fourth Awakening
Probably the most common problem with books in the new age or spiritual space is the author simply can’t resist the urge to dust off the soapbox and start making speeches. No one likes to be lectured to, and few are thirsting to pay hard-earned entertainment dollars to sit through a sermon.
While you may strongly believe in what you’re saying, it is your job to make the case for your viewpoint to a skeptical reader. I highly recommend including an outspoken character with an opposing view as a major player in your cast of characters.
In The Fourth Awakening Series, I have the two primary protagonists — an enlightened soul and a highly skeptical Pulitzer Prize winning journalist — slugging it out on pretty much every page. Not only does this make the characters more real, it affords the writer the opportunity to deliver the desired message without having the narrator don silken robe and ascend to the pulpit.
It is much better to allow your readers to watch two characters debate than to have it appear pre-determined that only one viewpoint will do.
Rod Pennington has published eight novels and sold multiple screenplays. In addition to the Fourth Awakening series he recently launched a new dark comedy series about a dysfunctional family of four of the world’s best assassins working as the enforcement arm for a shadowy Zen cabal that has been around for thousands of years: A Family Reunion (The First Charon Family Adventure).
Literary reincarnation novel a must-read for Buddhist mystery fans
Read “Yü” to explore how passion and murder can transcend centuries as Ross Lamos uses his powerful Touch to unfurl the stories of the prince, the emperor, and the concubine bound within three jade objects. Read “Yü” for the haiku-like perfection of the jade stories themselves. Read “Yü” for the vibrant historical details, the taut mystery, the secret romance. But if you’re a fan of spiritual fiction, read it you must. Joy Shane Laughter (rhymes with “daughter”) has penned one of the smartest, most engaging literary mysteries I’ve read in a long time.
Story: Forbidden love, the Imperial Court of the Han Dynasty, jades worth millions on the black market … Ross Lamos, 21st-Century Karmic Detective, knows that somehow, the history of the three jades is his as well. Yü, the Stone of Heaven, jade art born from the genius of ancient China. Lamos has built his career dealing Asian art and antiquities by hiding his very useful psychic Touch. When he holds the jades, the yü will reveal an extraordinary history. Lamos will risk everything to protect the jades, and finally remember his role in a love story that changed the course of a Dynasty … the love between an extraordinary Concubine and a Prince, the son of her Emperor, and the Poet caught between them all … a story hidden for two thousand years in three pieces of yü. Yü is the award-winning first novel by Joy Shayne Laughter and begins the Ross Lamos mystery series. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Ross possesses psychometry–the ability to sense information about an object and the people associated with it. When he touches the jade pieces, he falls headlong into visions from the Imperial Palace of the Han Dynasty. The breathtaking jade stories build upon spiritual principles from that time, primarily Taoist writings by Chuang Tzu. One of the most moving sections vividly describes an exercise that people assume enhances combat skills. “What a misunderstanding,” says the concubine who practices the art. “The exercise is an increase in lightness and joy . . . you expand your welcome and embrace all of life . . . It is teasing play, where two minds learn to meet, speak together in silence, and then have a witty debate in movement.” It is through this meditative practice that the concubine first engages with the prince as he secretly watches her practice. Laughter does a splendid job of demonstrating how past traumas set the stage for our current lives, and she employs the Buddhist Middle Way to help her characters understand and work through their present karma.
My take: This multi-dimensional literary mystery brilliantly interweaves reincarnation stories into a contemporary mystery. By writing the stories in first person, ancient events seem immediate and compelling, almost more so than the present-day mystery that Ross unravels. The story culminates with a cunning identity twist that is totally unexpected, and totally satisfying.
The historical details from the Han Dynasty are not decorative fabric draped about the story, as is the case in many reincarnation novels, but essential to the action. For instance, the concubine communicates with her lover across an imperial court rife with spies, secret alliances, and conspiracies using a secret language of fans. But nothing stays secret for long within the claustrophobic walls of the Imperial Palace.
Laughter’s jade stories burst at the seams with elegant, concise, and yet restrained prose that pierces the true nature of each character. She evokes sympathy for a villain with a single, well-crafted line: “He carries so many more secrets than I. We both need so much comfort. ” Spare and beautiful, each word of the many jade stories performs double and even triple duty–prose haiku. Even the act of eating in public becomes an intimate, sensual act filled with tension and danger, more highly charged–and more thrilling to the reader–than the most explicit passages of a romance novel.
The simplicity of the jade stories resonates in bold contrast to her full-bodied descriptions of our contemporary world, details that pull you into a deeper understanding of what it is like to experience the Touch. The jade stories quilt together layers of tension, culminating in a crescendo that, unfortunately, the real-time story can’t quite match. The jade stories so overpower the actual mystery that one is left wanting more than the climax can deliver.
Cheers to Joy Shane Laughter for this haunting, beautifully researched Buddhist detective novel. I cannot wait to read the next book in the Ross Lamos series.
Yü: A Ross Lamos Mystery, by Joy Shayne Laughter
Open Book Press, 2010
Paperback, 226 pages
Buy at Amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“The Fourth Awakening” crackles with tension, right up to the end–where, unfortunately, the lack of a credible villain unravels the tightly woven story. However, the strong writing and spiritual depth are more than enough to make the novel an entertaining and enlightening read.
Story: Penelope Drayton Spence made a choice years earlier, and picked marriage and family over a promising career as an investigative reporter. Now, divorced and with her children spread around the country, she is having second thoughts. A mysterious call from the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, offers her a second chance at big time journalism. He has a story so sensitive that the President of the United States personally asked the Post to leave it alone. With rumors of 30 top scientists missing and rich industrialist, Michael Walker, being held incommunicado in a prison typically used for terrorists, the story is too big to ignore. . . . On one level it is a straightforward suspense story with plenty of action, a healthy dose of humor and a pinch of sexual tension. On another it is a spiritual quest by a remarkable woman who meets an enlightened man the likes of which have never been seen in fiction before. . . . Penelope becomes aware of the looming Fourth Awakening, and makes the chilling discovery that her reporting skills and ability to fight her personal demons may be the only thing that can save humanity. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Penelope is on the path to to enlightenment via yoga and meditation and practices the Law of Attraction. When she meets Michael, she learns that thoughts have power. “Thought is thought. There is no good or evil. . . . Emotionally charged negative thoughts tend to be more strongly felt than positive ones. You run the risk of manifesting something that you really don’t intend.”
The story gets interesting when the authors introduce the idea of the Fourth Awakening: The number of individuals who can reach a state of non-symbolic thought (aka enlightenment) has reached critical mass. The book likens this state to the Internet–a giant field of energy, full of information, open to anyone who has the right connection.
My take: I enjoyed the novel as a spiritual thriller. The quick-paced plot keeps you turning pages as the stakes grow higher and the fate of the human race is in peril. Penelope’s character is well drawn and entirely believable. The rationale explaining the Fourth Awakening is fascinating (see What exactly is an awakening?). I devoured the first two-thirds of this novel in one sitting, reluctant to put it down. Unfortunately, a good thriller requires a significant threat, and that’s where the book fell apart for me. The authors ran into the basic problem that confronts every metaphysical writer: How to you spin positive development in a negative way in order to manufacture believable conflict?
In my opinion, Pennington and Martin handled that specific problem more gracefully than James Redfield did in his Celestine Prophecy books. It’s a difficult problem to overcome. However, the book succeeded as an entertaining thriller even though the “villain” fell short for me. The book was well written, fast paced, and well crafted. Their spiritual principles are sound, and I look forward to seeing where the series will lead.
The Fourth Awakening, by Rod Pennington and Jeffery A. Martin
Published by Integration Press , 2009
Paperback, 298 pages
Buy at Amazon