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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How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain?

Moreover, readers can literally “feel” good writing

(Click twice to enlarge the graphic)

How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain

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.

neural coupling 3

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

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: 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

Book review: Down at the Golden Coin

 Unexpectedly entertaining spiritual novel is a treat to read

Down At The Golden Coin spiritual fiction metaphysical novelRating: 4 1/2  out of 5 stars

Strickland is a terrific writer. For a slim spiritual novelDown 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.

Details:
Down at the Golden Coin, by Kim Strickland
Eckhartz Press, 2012
Paperback, 172 pages
Buy at Amazon