Book review: The Art of Purring

  Dalai Lama’s cat takes up the quest to define happiness

Dalai-lamas-cat-art-of-purring-michieRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

In “The Art of Purring,” David Michie once again takes us on a delightful journey to reveal what only His Holiness’s Cat can discover in a Buddhist temple in this charming sequel to “The Dalai Lama’s Cat.” This time, the goal is no less than the pursuit of happiness.

Story: “What makes you purr? Of all the questions in the world, this is the most important. It is also the great leveler. Because no matter whether you are a playful kitten or a sedentary senior, a scrawny alley Tom or a sleek-coated uptown girl, whatever your circumstances, you just want to be happy. Not the kind of happy that comes and goes like a can of flaked tuna but an enduring happiness. The deep-down happiness that makes you purr from the heart.”

Before leaving for a teaching tour to America, the Dalai Lama poses a challenge to his beloved feline, HHC (His Holiness’s Cat): to discover the true cause of happiness. Little does she know what adventures this task will bring! (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. HHC ventures into new territory to discover the answer to the Dalai Lama’s challenge. While exploring yoga, an encounter with the mystical Yogi Tarchen leads to a discovery about her past with far-reaching implications. However, she learns that happiness doesn’t dwell in the past but only in the here and now.

The book explores both Eastern philosophy and Western science to describe a “happiness formula” and much more. It makes the point that everything is possible, even beyond events like clairvoyance, telepathy, and animal sentience.

My take: Michie takes his second Dalai Lama’s Cat novel into the realms of the magical with his lush and detailed descriptions of life among the Namgyal monks,particularly the inner workings of the temple and of Buddhist funeral rites. However, he keeps his philosophy firmly planted on all four paws. Although lyrical, The Art of Purring is a practical book written from the pragmatic perspective of this special cat who simply wants to know, what makes us purr? What makes us happy?

By hanging out at the Himalaya Book Café, HHC benefits from overheard conversations with famous writers, high-ranking lamas, and eminent psychologists discussing the relationship between happiness and success and the many facts of happiness, including its paradoxical nature. In many ways, this metaphysical novel is the perfect complement to the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness.

What is the true cause of purring? The answer unfolds for both the cat and her reading companions with HHC’s trademark charm and a hint of mischeviousness that delights and entertains in equal doses.

Details:
The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring, by David Michie
Hay House, 2013
Paperback, 208 pages
Buy at Amazon

Movie Review: Dean Spanley

  Charming film depicts “novel” reincarnation

Dean Spanley filmRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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.”

Details:

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

Book review: Transforming Pandora

  Charming novel blends romance with spirituality

transforming_pandora_spiritual_fiction_metaphysical_romanceRating: 4 out of 5 stars

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 takeTransforming 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.

Details:
Transforming Pandora, by Carolyn Mathews
Roundfire Books, 2012
Paperback, 345 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Unison (The Spheral)

  Simultaneous lifetimes give reincarnation novel a fresh feel

Unison (The Spheral) reincarnation fiction visionary novelRating: 4 out of 5 stars

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.

Details:
Unison (The Spheral), by Eleni Papanou
Philophrosyne Publishing, 2013
Paperback, 563 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: The Dalai Lama’s Cat

  Quirky spiritual novel is short on tale, long on charm

The Dalai Lama's Cat metaphysical novel Buddhist fictionRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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.

Details:
The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie
Hay House Visions, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Star Child

Metaphysical novel serves up a feast for the senses

star child metaphysical fiction spiritual novelRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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.

Details:
Star Child, by Kay Goldstein
Vineyard Stories, 2012
Hardcover, 81 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: God Is an Atheist

 If God doesn’t believe in Himself, what about us?

God Is an Athiest metaphysical fiction novellaRating: 4 out of 5 stars

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.

Details:
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