I couldn’t put down this collection of essays on Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love and finished it in one fell swoop on a flight from Istanbul to New YorI couldn’t put down this collection of essays on Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love and finished it in one fell swoop on a flight from Istanbul to New York. A small bookseller who set up shop at the Second Court of Topkapi Palace sold it to me. This is the magnificent resident of the Ottoman Empire Sultans. What an extraordinarily delightful place to find such a text! This slim text is readily available to U.S readers and should enchant lovers of Rumi and Sufism. A recent compilation, published this year and edited by M. Fatih Citlak and Huseyin Bingul, it is by far the best expository book about Sufism and Rumi that I have ever read. And I have read many.
The first essay, “Rumi’s Path of Love and Being Freed with the Sama” introduces Sufis as “Friends of the Truth.” There is no more eloquent or veracious fashion of depicting the Sufis than in this way. The author Mehmet Seker writes that, potentially, we are able to achieve the level of the best of creation by using and developing our spiritual attributes. Those who can escape from the material world and escalate toward the high ranks of the heart and soul will experience the world in a different way, he writes, and they will become conscious of the secrets of creation. When they look, they will see things that others cannot, and everywhere they look, they will see manifestations of the divine.
Seker writes that Rumi was one of these “Friends of the Truth.” He was one of the perfect representatives of the many Sufi devotees whose way of life is to love and be of service to people, to become a perfect human being, and thus to have the pleasure of God. He also introduces the Mevlevi sect, the Sufi order that Rumi belonged to, and the Whirling Dervishes who perform the Sama, a ceremony of meditative dancing by spinning and turning as their ritual to connect to the Divine. The Sama is contemplation or meditation in action, seeking a direct connection to the Divine, yet it is still grounded in Islam. The ney or reed-flute is the instrument of choice for these ceremonies as the Sufis believe that music, when combined with meditation and contemplation, is a faster way of reaching God.
I treasure this beautiful compilation of essays by scholars and writers who find themselves enamored by Rumi and Sufism. How could they not? For hundreds of years this mystic and poet has bridged the gap between the East and West and calmed the tension of the “clash of civilizations.” Dog-ear the following essays: Rumi’s Path of Love and Being Freed, Sama and the Spiritual Signs Within, Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch and Her Contributions to the Promotion of Rumi, and Ecstasy in the Song of the Reed’s Plaintive Notes.
Illuminata is a beautiful book of what I would call “secular” prayers by one of the most acclaimed spiritual writers of our time, Marianne Williamson.Illuminata is a beautiful book of what I would call “secular” prayers by one of the most acclaimed spiritual writers of our time, Marianne Williamson. There is no mention of a prophet or religious lingo, just God and the contemplation to reach him with these words. There are prayers for everything you could imagine, healing, love, children, money, failure, achievement and work, daily prayers and renewal prayers. The prayers are as powerful as those of the three monotheistic traditions, yet they are bare and simple, applicable to anyone. Williamson believes in the unification of the world’s spiritual traditions, and this book of prayers reflects that. She also offers her own commentary to spirituality, written as a preface to her prayers.
Meditation is just as important to her as prayer. She writes, “prayer is when we talk to God, and meditation is when we listen.” Meditation is a time of quiet when the mind is freed, a silence in which the spirit of God can enter us and work his divine alchemy upon us, she says. Our brains hence emit different waves as we receive information more deeply than we do during normal waking consciousness. Meditation is a time we can speak to others at their soul level, “in the holiness of the inner shrine from your most naked, loving truth.”
Williamson’s reflection on prayer here is a snapshot of the great insights she shares in Illuminata, “The highest level of prayer is not a prayer for anything. It is a deep and profound silence, in which we allow ourselves to be still and know Him. In that silence, we are changed. We are calmed. We are illumined.”
One of my favorite sections is “Daily Prayers.” Henry David Thoreau once said that each day is a new beginning, like a new blank leaf page of a book, the chance to start anew. The prayers in this section are a great way to begin the day, with “Morning Prayer,” or “A New Day,” or even closing the day with “Evening Prayers.” She also has a wonderful section on relationships. During meditation, she says, we can speak soul to soul and hear the response. “Where we love,” she writes, “let us deepen that love through silent communion in the chambers of the heart. Where we experience conflict, let us find the soul of the other in silence, in prayer.” ...more
As women we can sell ourselves short as mothers, wives, lovers, friends and employees. Marianne Williamson is our biggest advocate, reminding us thatAs women we can sell ourselves short as mothers, wives, lovers, friends and employees. Marianne Williamson is our biggest advocate, reminding us that we are worth far more than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. It's easy for women to sacrifice, getting lost in a sea of needs, losing ourselves in others, forgetting our power as creative beings.
I think A Woman's Worth should be assigned reading for every woman.
This is the third book of Williamson's that I've read. I see this book as a 140-page essay rather than a self-help guide. Though the form is at times amorphous and meandering, delving sometimes into Woolfish stream of consciousness, she manages to pinpoint the essence of a woman's role, purpose and spiritual mission. This is quite a large feat for 140 pages! Ultimately, she writes that a woman can only find peace and security in herself. We as the "goddess" can only lead intact. And that peace can only come from a strong spiritual core cultivated through meditation, prayer, yoga, or some type of daily spiritual practice, even physical exercise helps. To love deeply, she argues, is a woman's greatest gift. She discusses children, sex, relationships, but ultimately her core messages comes down to the imperativeness of a whole woman only made whole by a strong connection to God. "The only beloved who can always be counted on is God," she writes.
The golden nugget here is her voice. It is highly engaging, almost enthralling and penetrating. Though her message can get convoluted in so many of her thoughts, to enjoy this book you just have marinate in her words, and stay in the moment of her raw prose. ...more
The Butterfly Mosque is a spiritual memoir of a then twenty something American woman who falls in love with the Egyptian culture (as well as an EgyptiThe Butterfly Mosque is a spiritual memoir of a then twenty something American woman who falls in love with the Egyptian culture (as well as an Egyptian man) and becomes a Muslim. Though much of the memoir follows G. Willow Wilson’s odyssey, she devotes many of her pages to a frank discussion of women, Islam, and the relationship of Islam to the West. Part-essayist, part-poet, Wilson begins with the concept of the “clash of civilizations.” Is Islam really in conflict with Western values? She explores the many facets of this topic.
Wilson’s language is as consistently poignant as the title of her book. In one sentence she writes, “Down the center of this metropolis snaked the Nile, coffee-dark and wide.” And here is an excerpt from her memoir that is a microcosm of the book as a whole: “I didn’t know what waited for me in Egypt. I didn’t know whether the clash of civilizations was real, or whether being an American Muslim was a contradiction. But for the first time in my life, I felt unified—that had to mean something. Cultural and political differences go bone deep, but there is something even deeper. I believed that. I had to believe it.”
As a truth seeker, she is gutsy. During her sojourn abroad, she interviews spiritual leaders of Islam and even travels alone to Iran for answers. And though I wish she spent more time divulging her spiritual transformation (how she turned from an atheist to a God-believing Muslim), this is by far the best memoir about Islam that I’ve come across. In the post-9/11 era, it’s refreshing to read a book by an American woman extolling the virtues of Islam, portraying it as a religion of peace that protects women and gives them special attention. For Wilson, female empowerment is not inconsistent with Islamic values.
Wilson shows us how there are many forms of Islam, just as there are hundreds of denominations of Christianity. What we see as limiting to women in Islam is often cultural rather than religious—for instance how women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia. In fact, it is the only country in the world that bans a woman from driving. In Turkey, a 99.8 percent Muslim country, a woman was prime minister just two decades ago, and women enjoy all the freedoms that men do. Turkey’s constitution actually forbids women to wear the headscarf in public places. Wilson writes, “I was surprised by how often Islam, in its purely textual form, took my side. There is no religious limit on the public spaces that women can inhabit; nothing prevents them from running businesses or driving cars, there is no reason they must walk behind men or cover their faces. A woman’s role is not defined by the kitchen and the nursery.”
Besides her timely discussion of women and Islam, Wilson also confronts the frightening environment for American Muslims during the peak Bush/Patriot Act era. She is a brave woman with a poetic voice who shows the peaceful, lyrical, nurturing side of the religion that unfortunately few in our country see. I dearly hope Wilson writes more books and continues this conversation. ...more
If you run, meditate, practice yoga or just love fitness, you should absolutely read this book.
I’ve always viewed my running practice as a moving mediIf you run, meditate, practice yoga or just love fitness, you should absolutely read this book.
I’ve always viewed my running practice as a moving meditation and wondered how the two disciplines converged. When I saw this book, I thought it could answer the many questions I’ve always had about the connection between running and meditation.
Running with the Mind of Meditation is a wonderful read about two very synergistic practices. Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan lama and leader of Shambhala, a community of over a hundred meditation retreat centers worldwide, and a serious runner, with nine marathons under his belt. He has run in the toughest of climates and the harshest of terrain (for example, running with little sleep in the Indian wilderness at 3:30 a.m. on one trip, and in knee-high snow in post-blizzard, frigid North American terrain, complete with moose and bald eagles, in another.) Saying Mipham is a devotee to both practices would be an understatement.
His voice on the page is calm and meditative itself. His writing style is clear and clean, but also effervescent, brimming with energy and inquisitiveness. There is not a word wasted, or spared. The reader welcomes just another page before shutting the book. It's hard to put down.
He instructs the reader on how to meditate and run properly. The body benefits from movement, the mind from stillness, so together the two practices make up an ideal mind-body practice. In meditation, he introduces us to the stages of strengthening and developing the mind. Long periods of overstimulation can affect our organs and blood flow. As for running, he says it is pivotal to be mindful, wholly present, to bring an attitude of respect, full-heartedness and appreciation to your practice. He applies tools from his meditation practice to running, but ultimately sees the two as separate activities.
Still, he does discuss how the two converge. In what he calls a “dragon run,” for instance, you can run with a deep purpose and connect to an important theme that has come to the surface of your life. The run becomes a meditation as you focus on a chosen thought. For example, if you want to make a change in your life, running and contemplating that change may help you visualize and realize it. Moving the body, and bringing up an important though to contemplate, can be highly compatible activities.
One thing that I did feel was lacking was any kind of explanation as to what happens to the brain during both practices, and if a similar reaction or experience is taking place (for instance, the appearance of theta waves in the brain that tend to appear during meditation or regions of the brain that are activated). This would have evidenced the link between the two practices. Personal experience is fulfilling, but since this is not a memoir but an informative book on the topic, some research or discussion of it would have been helpful.
Still, for lovers of running, meditation, spirituality, sports, I'd add it to your shelf. ...more
Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven is by far the most convincing account of heaven that I've ever read, and I've read at least five accounts, includDr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven is by far the most convincing account of heaven that I've ever read, and I've read at least five accounts, including the bestselling Heaven is For Real, Flight to Heaven, and 90 Minutes in Heaven. As of date, Proof of Heaven still remains #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.
I am fascinated by the fact that many of these accounts are strikingly similar. However, I became somewhat of a skeptic myself when I noticed that most of the books I had read on the afterlife were written by ministers, missionaries, or someone affiliated with a church. To hear an account from someone who didn’t believe in God, didn’t go to church, and who had no interest in religious matters, made that account far more believable. In fact, Dr. Alexander is a neurosurgeon who relied on scientific proof to explain the workings of the world.
Unexpectedly infected with bacterial meningitis, Dr. Alexander remained in a coma for seven days. By the end of the week, doctors were convinced that he had no chance of waking, and even if he woke, he would never recover. But one day he wakes up and eventually completely recovers to the astonishment of the medical community. During the time he is unconscious, he gives a heartfelt account of what happens to him. Though Dr. Alexander’s voice is thoroughly engaging, his time in heaven is described quite generally. There are no incredible details of heaven. The most descriptive he gets is when he talks about puffy, pink-white clouds, flocks of transparent orbs, shimmering beings racing across the sky, and people singing and dancing among trees, fields and waterfalls. God is referred to as Om, and the most vivid character is a girl on a butterfly wing who accompanies him.
However, his descriptions of hell are compelling and disturbing. Here, Dr. Alexander is almost graphic in his details and his report stays with you for some time. As a reader, you are so sold on his story that you begin to think that hell really does exist, and that maybe it's a good idea to review the Ten Commandments. He also spends many pages informing the reader on near-death experiences and where his experience fits in that research. His insights on spirituality and God are alone well worth the read. ...more
I have tender feelings for this little orange book of fiction about a Finnish-American family of eleven rooted in a deep, evangelical Lutheran faith cI have tender feelings for this little orange book of fiction about a Finnish-American family of eleven rooted in a deep, evangelical Lutheran faith called Laestadianism. I consider myself a hearty reader of religion and spirituality, familiar with the Amish, the Mennonites and the Mormons. But before reading We Sinners, penned by a young author who grew up in this fundamentalist upbringing, I knew nothing of this faith. The story follows all nine children, three of whom leave the church, in modern-day Michigan. The Rovaniemis appear to be just like any other American family. They just don’t watch television, drink alcohol, dance, listen to music, or engage in any of the joys of the modern world.
There is no doubt that Hanna Pylvainen is a gifted writer. She writes with a Hemingway-like simplicity and a Woolf-like gravity. Something about the string of narratives in this book, each chapter showing the point of view of a different member of the family, reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel, The Waves. In that book, each of the six characters has a direct voice, speaking in the first person. Though We Sinners is written in the third person, the author manages to make each family member appear to be speaking in the first person.
Surprisingly, the family doesn’t seem dysfunctional, even though Brita, the oldest and seemingly most devout child, shuns another, Julia, the middle child, for not believing. She tells her she doesn’t want her holding her baby anymore. Also, the parents don’t come to the funeral of their son’s partner. Their son Simon is gay, and has left the faith too. In each and every page, the reader feels the love that remains within the family. This makes the conflict brutal for the children who are disconnected from the faith. Julia, the most relatable character, has one of the most compelling points of views as depicted in the chapter “Total Loss.” Plyvainen writes, “She wanted to prove that she could leave the church and not become a disaster, that she could still be a good sister, a good aunt, find a good husband—she could still be loved, just the same.” Julia, together with her other two siblings who leave the faith, are given little compassion by their parents and devout siblings for their choices.
As for the remaining faithful children, life doesn’t seem to be any more settled. In “Rupture,” Brita is on the precipice of having her seventh C-section. Her doctor is petrified that her uterus will rupture due to her history. She suffers a massive hemorrhage during the surgery, but miraculously survives. Even with that miracle, she remains shrouded in hopelessness: “She realized she had run out of fantasies—out of husbands to imagine, homes to build, pianos—there was nothing, only life itself, only long and hard and always more of it, always more.” As positive adherents of religion, we think of faith as pulling us above the doldrums of life to the endless possibilities. Yet here faith is as limiting as it can get. A belief against birth control leads to Brita’s seventh C-section. The reader is left to wonder, would she survive the eighth?
Though the narratives are beautifully woven together, the book longs for a strong sense of place. There is little description of their town or city. I also didn’t get a palpable sense of their Finnish culture. I am left with many questions about their faith and family history. When did the parents come to the United States? Were they first generation? If so, what was life growing up in Finland like for the parents? What is it like to be Finnish-American?
The last chapter named “Whiskey Dragon, 1847” was completely disconnected from the rest of the story. Here we are given a completely impartial narrative including Laestadius, the founder and leader of their church. But giving us a whole new story about a woman and her alcoholic husband in the Scandinavian tundra of the nineteenth century, whereby the drinking leads to devastating consequences, didn’t shed much light on the faith or culture of the early Laestadians.
Still, We Sinners is one of those rare books that stays with you long after you’ve read the last chapter. It disturbs, it moves, it gnaws. At times the author’s words were so moving and penetrating that I saw chills running up my arms. I haven’t had that reaction in some time. ...more
Buddhist priest and teacher Lewis Richmond is his latest book Aging as a Spiritual Practice begins with what he believes are the four stages of aging.Buddhist priest and teacher Lewis Richmond is his latest book Aging as a Spiritual Practice begins with what he believes are the four stages of aging. The first stage “Lightning Strikes,” is a realization that we are growing old. The sensation comes out of nowhere, unexpectedly, like a bolt from above. I am only thirty-five years old, but this is exactly what happened to me recently, before I had even been assigned to read this book as a Library Thing Early Reviewer. Naturally, I was drawn to the book.
This was my recent “Lightning Strikes” moment. Since I’m pregnant, I can’t color and highlight my hair, and about a month or two ago, while it was up in a ponytail, I found myself face to face with an anomalous site: a bunch of gray hairs, stubbornly held together by their own thickness, on the side of my head, far too many to pluck. Feeling tired and sluggish from the pregnancy with that gray spectacle before me: lightning struck, just as Richmond said. I realized, yes, I am only thirty-five, but I’m turning a corner to a place I don’t want to go.
This is Richmond’s gift, his ability to make his story relatable to anyone who has left youth’s golden walls. His book, a mix of self-help, inspirational and meditative guide (Richmond suggests specific meditative exercises such as “Gratitude Walk,” “Calm Lake,” “The Loving Kindness Prayer,” and “Resting in Awareness”), comprehensively explores the connection between spirituality and aging. After giving a brief overview of the next three stages of aging, Richmond discusses elderhood, the feelings of growing older, all the while illuminating his narrative with the Zen fables of his mentor Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki. The author also includes the present day science of healthy aging and the Buddhist approach.
In his discussion of lifestyle factors that contribute to healthy aging, including diet, exercise, relationships, stress management, and spirituality, Richmond includes lesser known factors such as time in nature, service to others and flexibility in attitude. I found the importance of time in nature the most fascinating. Citing the research of Dr. Roger Walsh, Richmond writes that in an industrialized world where we don’t have healthy time in nature, we can suffer from disruptions of mood and sleep, impairment of attention and greater cognitive decline as we reach the elder years. Equally compelling is the “biophilia hypothesis” movement among environmental scientists, calling for the need of regular exposure to nature to maintain normal mental health. Without it, our minds don’t function well.
When it comes to spirituality itself, Richmond mentions various Buddhist contemplative practices to help with aging, such as mindfulness of breath, compassion, gratitude and spacious awareness. Meditation, he writes, is at its core focus and insight, but it can also be seen as surrender, a state of spacious awareness because it feels like a clear blue sky or a boundless ocean, or a time to simply relax and rest into the light of who we are on a deeper level. A regular practice also quiets the inner dialogue of our minds; it can stop all that thinking about aging.
I found Aging as a Spiritual Practice a heartfelt, yet intelligent guide for those contemplating aging on their spiritual path. It’s a lovely read, well thought out and edited, lacking the simplistic writing, trite concepts or lazy regurgitation that can plague many self-help books. Ultimately, Richmond’s positive spin and Buddhist approach gives hope to aging. It’s worth the read if aging is on your mind too.