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

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Book review: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Thought-provoking spiritual novel inspires compassion

Bernie Gourley, guest reviewer

The Novice by Thich Nhat HanhRating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Novice is the retelling of a Vietnamese folk tale about a young monk who is repeatedly wronged, but who always does the virtuous thing. As I read this book, I thought the story seemed familiar, and I realized that I read the same story as The Martyr by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa does a much better job of story building. The Japanese writer doesn’t reveal to the reader that Lorenzo (his novice and the equivalent of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Kihn Tâm) is a female until the end—thus definitely resolving the claim that the young monk fathered a child out-of-wedlock and in contravention of vows for the reader at the same time as the characters in the story learn it.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the novice is a female at the beginning, and he does so via backstory that serves both to give justification for why Kihn Tâm chooses to disguise herself and become a monk and to pile onto the injustice. We learn that Kihn Tâm’s female alter ego had been married, but the marriage ended with a false accusation of attempted murder of her husband. This backstory probably isn’t worth the drag for either of the aforementioned purposes—but the former is more justifiable than the latter.

What Thich Nhat Hanh lacks in gripping narrative structure, he gains in provoking thought. The Zen monk and poet gives the reader insight into how Kinh Tâm manages to be preternaturally virtuous. In The Martyr this is a black box affair. Hanh also encourages the reader to see Kihn Tâm’s accusers as the novice does, i.e. with compassion. Akutagawa does what any writer would do; he vilifies the accusers so as to make the story resonate with the average, petty, martyr-complex prone reader—as opposed to the enlightenment-aspiring reader. Hanh leaves the other monks in Kinh Tâm’s corner, i.e. when everyone else is condemning the novice, they still believe in her. In Akutagawa’s story, monastics are not inherently so perfect.

The book offers some interesting back matter. The most substantial of the appendices is an account by Sister Chan Khong of the works of Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers both during the war and afterword when they tried to establish a monastery in Communist Vietnam. The essay echoes the themes of loving-kindness and compassion that form the core of the novella, as does the essay by Hanh that brings the book to a conclusion. While this back matter is filler to make up for the fact that the story is not novel length, it nevertheless makes for interesting reading.

I’d recommend this book for those with an interested in Zen. If you’re looking for a good story, read Akutagawa’s The Martyr, but if you want to be inspired to compassion, read Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Details:
The Novice: A Story of True Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperOne, 2012
Paperback, 120 pages
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This book review was reprinted with permission from Bernie Gourley, who writes at http://berniegourley.com

Book review: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

 Metaphysical novel borrows from Coelho’s own experience

Veronika Decides to Die Paulo Coelho

Bernie Gourley, guest reviewer

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Veronika Decides to Die is about a young Slovenian woman, Veronika, who attempts suicide, fails, is institutionalized, and is informed that her attempted suicide damaged her heart and she has only five days to live. In the hospital she has to come to grips with what it means to be dying, but also what it means to be insane.

The book deals with the effect of Veronika’s death sentence diagnosis on her as well as on other patients with whom she interacts. The first patient Veronika comes in contact with is a depressive named Zedka who offers Veronika advice and insight. Then there is Maria, a woman who withdrew from her professional and family life to be institutionalized because she was having inexplicable panic attacks. Finally, there is Eduardo, a schizophrenic who is virtually non-functional when he meets Veronika, but who ends up in a relationship with the young woman nonetheless. These patients come to realize that they are hiding out at the hospital. They stay in the hospital because they are free to defy norms without judgment. When Veronika decides she doesn’t want to die hiding out, it has a profound impact on the others.

The book borrows heavily upon Coelho’s personal experience. He was institutionalized as a young man by parents who were disturbed when he went artsy and began hanging out with undesirables. Interestingly, Coelho has a cameo role in the book as himself. In the book he writes an article that playfully asks the question, “Where is Slovenia?” When Veronika is waiting to die from her overdose, she reads the article and decides to write a letter to the editor claiming that she killed herself because of the depressing effect of Coelho’s suggestion that nobody who’s anybody knows or cares where Slovenia is located.

In the end Veronika finds that she is truly free. Veronika seems to have everything at the beginning of the story: a job, boyfriends, and popularity. However, it’s those things that she comes to feel enslave her, and that’s what leads to the attempted suicide. In a way, Veronika is doubly freed. She is free because she is dying, and what can one do to a dying person. Second, she has been labeled crazy, and, having such a label, people expect her to act oddly. She has the freedom to do those things she has been too frightened to do all her life.

I’d recommend this metaphysical book. It’s short, readable, and offers clear food for thought.

Details:
Veronika Decides to Die, by Paulo Coelho
Harper Perennial, 2006
Paperback, 240 pages
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This book review was reprinted with permission from Bernie Gourley, who writes at http://berniegourley.com

Book review: Orange Petals in a Storm

Beautifully crafted metaphysical fiction

orange petals in a storm metaphysical fictionTahlia Newland, guest reviewer

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.”

Details:
Orange Petals In A Storm (Skyla McFee Series), by Niamh Clune
Plum Tree Books, 2011
Kindle, 190 printed pages
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tahlia newland visionary fiction author

Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland writes heart-warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and visionary fiction at tahlianewland.com, and she also writes reviews for AwesomeIndies.com

How do you define metaphysical fiction?

Rumi: Don’t Go Back To Sleep

Check out Rumi’s brief, beautiful  poem about crossing the threshold from the physical world into the spiritual/metaphysical realm.

Cello solo “Julie-O” by Mark Summers, the Apollon Quartet

This is my first foray into creating video content – please be kind!

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