“I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
I hereby declare Summer officially upon us!
Even those of us in the South Pole. Thanks for playing along.
Summer means reading time for many people.
One of my book reviewing traditions is to cover books that don’t deal directly with yoga or meditation as we practice it in the West, but are nonetheless chock full of soul GOLD.
Melt some of this soul GOLD into your personal pot of yogic and meditative magic.
This first group of books in the series I’m calling “Gods are Us” because they talk about our inner gods– in the form of archetypes– ways of seeing the “characters” that interact with one another on the stage of our consciousness.
So let’s open the treasure chest and start digging.
I’ve read these five books over the past year or two, although a few are quite a bit older. The books are:
- Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga by Sally Kempton
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- Red, Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story by Sera Beak
- Reveal: The Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked by Megan Watterson
- The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life by Colette Baron-Reid
Here’s how the review works.
I’ll share an excerpt and say a bit about each book.
Here we go.
Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Gods of Yoga by Sally Kempton
Many of you might’ve read this already, as it’s been showered with much-deserved admiration. Sally Kempton is a famous meditation teacher and luminous woman who has devoted her life to the study of the internal forms of the yogic tradition. She’s a scholar, a practitioner, but also an engaging storyteller– in her books and in real life.
The title of the book contains the word “Yoga”, but as Sally explains, this book isn’t a typical Western Yogic book so much as a Western look at the Hindu goddesses and how they symbolically “live” in the modern psyche.
Here’s a quote from the first chapter, in a section titled “Modernity and the Feminine” that is part editorial, part story.
“With all its gifts and dignities, modernity has created conditions that weaken our bonds with the feminine. We’re born, most of us, in sterile hospital environments, emerging out of the womb to be blinded by bright lights, handed over to large beings who spank us and cut the umbilical cord— and even our foreskin if we happen to be boys. If we are premature or seem weak or sick, we might be separated from our mother or even kept in incubators— in short, abandoned by the feminine. We’re often mothered by women who were not mothered themselves and who don’t have the deep capacity for relaxed nurturance that lets children trust their place in the world. We grow up into a culture where girls are treated as objects of sexual desire long before they have any true sense of self, and where the secret language of the feminine has been cornmodified into shared conversations about fashion and nail polish. We become mothers outside a system of social support, often juggling demanding jobs, economic shortfalls, and our own emotional difficulties. As we age, we turn invisible. My friend Penny came home from a trip to New York, where she remembered from twenty years before that every man she passed undressed her with his eyes. She told her husband, “Men in New York have become so much less sexually aggressive.” Her husband gave her a puzzled look. “Honey,” he said, “You’re fifty.” The realization sent her into an identity crisis that lasted for several years— during which she spent time observing elderly women she knew, realizing that, rather than becoming true elders, many of them simply devolved into passivity and depression.
To change all this requires a deep turning of the heart, a shift of consciousness that has to come from our connection to the source of life. The sacred technologies of Tantrie culture offer us this possibility.”
Whoah. So, as many of you know, I turned fifty this year. I’m not about to “devolve” into passivity and depression, but I totally know what Sally’s friend Penny experienced. It’s a real smack to the ego and does not feel at all like finding humility.
I love Sally’s term “sacred technology” and wonder if I picked up from Sally my own use of the word “technology” to describe inner processes that facilitate inner change.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The only fiction book in the group doesn’t sport a spiritual halo. This book is a fun tour de force. The Ancient Gods of all world cultures are alive in modern America. They’ve taken on not only our physical forms, but many of our ways. My soundbite book description is John Updike’s The Centaur meets Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker.
The lead character is aptly named “Shadow”.
Can’t say much more without risk of spoiling except that it’s great as an audio book– if you’re into listening as reading.
“There was a tale he had read once, long ago, as a small boy: the story of a traveler who had slipped down a cliff, with man-eating tigers above him and a lethal fall below him, who managed to stop his fall halfway down the side of the cliff, holding on for dear life. There was a clump of strawberries beside him, and certain death above him and below. What should he do? went the question.
And the reply was, Eat the strawberries.
The story had never made sense to him as a boy. It did now.”
Red, Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story by Sera Beak
I’m sure I’m not alone in this– my review of this book is mixed. Sera Beak has allowed the book to write itself. She recorded it as it “came” to her, “allowing the word to become flesh”. It’s form can be challenging, and its content muddy. At times, I wasn’t sure what I was reading, yet something nudged me onward. In fact, I couldn’t put the book down.
It’s part memoir, part study. It’s Sera’s journey into her shadow-self, into her earthiness, her Soul. This book does a great job at clarifying the difference between “Spirit” and “Soul”, “light” and “shadow” and other dilates that we find in spiritual discourse. It is a journey back to Wholeness, recovering parts of ourselves that spiritual culture might have encouraged us to spiritually bypass.
“In my inner vision, the D.M. [Divine Masculine] looks clear, and the D.F. [Divine Feminine] shimmers like a rainbow. The D.M. works it out on a yoga mat, the D.F. prefers a claw-foot bathtub. The D.M. drives a Prius; the D.F. speeds in a convertible Caddy. The D.M. fasts; the D.F. feasts. The D.F. sits cross-legged under a tree all day; the D.F. dances around a fire all night. The D.M. sounds like OMMMM; the D.F. sounds like AHHHHH or WOOO HOOO!!!! Or a guttural scream. Or a sob. Or a belly laugh. While both aspects of the Divine feel familiar and necessary, for me, the D.M. appears more spiritual, even though the D.F. feels more natural.”
Reveal: The Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked by Megan Watterson
The story behind the writing of this book is that Megan Watterson, a theologian from Harvard, searched for her most authentic spiritual voice and found the search for the Divine Feminine voice in spirituality. She knew the voice was buried rather than lost. At a sacred site of the Black Madonna in Europe, Watterson had a life-changing revelation. Rather than transcending or denying the body, being spiritual for her meant the opposite–accepting her body as sacred. And then she found that so many women wanted the same, to embody their sacredness, now, in this life, in this body.
This book is about spirituality as stripping down to the truth of who we really are. This was and is my journey. Yours too? And I think it’s a journey men find themselves on as well, though the journey might play out differently.
“You search the world to find the treasure you can sense is right here nearby, like your shadow. It is elusive and yet as ordinary and essential as the air you breathe. You go everywhere in search of this treasure, not realizing that what you are searching for is with you all the time. Finally, out of exhaustion, disillusionment, and sheer hopelessness, you stop. You end your search.
You come home.
You return to your just- okay life, to your so- so job, to your friends who sometimes love you and sometimes leave you too much alone. Then one day it dawns on you: there’s still a place you haven’t looked. You stand in the center of your shabby little studio apartment. You don’t have everything you wanted for yourself. You have maybe very little of what you had imagined for yourself at age 13 but you’re smiling anyway. For the first time in your life you see that there’s absolutely no reason, no crisis, no something you lack that could keep you from letting that smile break open your face.
Your smile is not the vastness you were searching for, but it’s a start. It’s a glimmer of the pot of gold you were restless to find, the Promised Land, the “lost” treasure— that certain immutable something that no one and nothing can disturb or take from you no matter what comes your way. It’s your own inner Shangri- La. It’s your freedom.”
I love the way Timelessness is distilled into a modern moment, an embodied moment, very familiar to all of us. The feeling of standing in our shabby (metaphorical) studio apartment and feeling happy anyway. The Contentment of the Ages breaking through modern existentialist angst like sunshine through a crack.
The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life by Colette Baron-Reid
The word “map” in book title caught my eye. More words winked back at me as I read the book description: inner landscape, adventure, journeys, mapmaking.
If you’ve read my books or know anything about the language flowing through all of my work, you know why I bought this book. Colette Baron-Reid speaks my language, only she is talking not just about what I call “Inner Life Design”, but all of life as design. The book is kind of like hero’s journey and an internal vision-quest combined. You see not just your internal faces but you feel your internal places. Not just archetypes, but the venues they hang out in.
Here’s a quote from the book’s Introduction:
“Where are you right now? Close your eyes and describe where you are. Are you in a Field of Dreams, where you plant the seeds of your intention and are eager to see the results? Are you lost in a dry desert, where abundance eludes you? Are you wandering through the Valley of Loss?
This inner landscape may bear no resmblance to where you actually are located in time and space. You could be sitting in a sunny room, looking out at a beautiful harbor, but feel stuck in an unforgiving and harsh land that exists inside you. What you believe has a great influence on where you find yourself when you look within.”
Ah. Perfect set up for inner work. I love this line: “What you believe has a great influence on where you find yourself when you look within.”
I haven’t finished this book yet, but certainly will. So far, I’ve found in this book the concepts that at the crux of my most recent creations: meditation-mapping and meditation as Inner Adventure, as Hero’s Journey, as an exploration of Inner Terrain. Yay. I love synchronicity and the validation it brings, especially when it comes to creative work.
That’s all for now. Happy reading.
Say hello to your shadow, your sacred body, your D.F. as you travel your internal world.
See you there.