LIFE: A USER'S MANUAL
by JOHN MILLER
New World Library
reviewed by Douglas S Johnson
I love anthologies of good literary work. As a writing instructor, I am constantly looking for the ultimate anthology of model essays. Were I teaching a class concerned with how to think about life and our reason for being here, John Miller's (almost) pocket-sized anthology would make for many great discussions. They make an interesting mix, the authors represented here, the old and the new, the conservative and the liberal, Mother Teresa and Albert Camus all cozy there, side by side. Still, there is a unified picture presented in Life: A Users Manual, a portrait of the wonder and mystery that constitute the "strange and bitter miracle of our too-brief days" (to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe). Perhaps the best way to represent this book in a review is to quote from and comment upon a few of the essays.
"To love is also good, for love is difficult." These words mark the opening of the seventh letter that Rilke wrote to the "young poet." Anyone who has assiduously studied the work of the German master, Rainer Maria Rilke, knows that love was of great concern to him. In this letter, he discusses the love that goes toward the union of a man and a woman, an alliance about which he made that great and curious proclamation: "a true marriage lies in two individuals protecting each other's solitude."
In fact, for Rilke, every truly loving relationship (as opposed to one based in mere infatuation) began (and nearly ended) in the self, in solitude; one simply could not, in Rilke's eyes, surrender oneself and still properly love. This was true to a goodly extent because Rilke's love, perhaps to some sentimentalists a bit cold, was based in the production of positive, world-forwarding work. Love was about doing one's "eyework," absorbing the world into oneself, and then doing one's "heartwork," making of the raw metaphysical materials of the world something beautiful and beneficial to all. Rilke knew, of course, that this could only happen with ample amounts of solitude.
"When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment; amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."
In Life: A Users Manual, Marcel Proust's often (foreshortened and) cited quote on memory is given in full and rendered in the context of the essay from which it is frequently taken. This short, brilliant essay, an excerpt from Remembrances of Things Past, has profoundly influenced the thoughts of everyone from novelist Thomas Wolfe, to psychologist Elizabeth Loftis, to me (as I strove this last weekend to explain to my niece Erin how we never truly forget anything).
In it, Proust tells how a simple bite of madeleine cake and a sip of tea occasioned the unfolding of a vast (and until then submerged) memory; how a whole house, a garden, a pond, a street, an entire private universe, came clear like the unwrinkling of a crumpled paper dropped into water (a metaphysical rendition of the old Japanese game). This essay is a marvelous classic, and one cannot help but be touched and changed by such a powerful statement about the human mind and soul.
"Souls of prayer are souls of great silence." The week of her death, I reviewed Mother Teresa's No Greater Love for The New Times, paying my own special homage to a great soul; and so I was pleased to find a bit of her book excerpted in Miller's anthology. In this short essay, Teresa, like Rilke, exhorts the aspirant who would be a great lover of the world to be first solitary and silent, so that God can make a way into the heart past all of the noise and commotion of the world.
The good Mother knew from whence she spoke. She arose each day at 4:30 and prayed for long hours before making her way into the impoverished streets of India. Then, when her day of healing and caring for the poor was finished, she would spend several more hours alone, in silence, waiting for God to arrive and speak to her. Prayer, she asserts, is not so much saying anything to God (God needs no counsel), but rather opening oneself to the voice of God, humbling oneself and diminishing the ego enough so that God can work with, work through, the meek and unassuming servant.
"Every minute of life carries with it its miraculous value, and its face of eternal youth." The student of literature who has read the dark and foreboding novel The Stranger or the barely hopeful essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" might not credit the quote above to existentialist Albert Camus. Still, in the essay presented in Miller's small volume, we see Camus not as nihilistic thinker, but as a man standing in his kitchen, watching the sun shine through the limbs of a tree and finding himself suddenly at one with the world, "a soft and gentle passion breathing the air." Much in the same wise as the pragmatist thinkers of the late 19th and early twentieth century, Camus states here that the only place that one can truly find oneself is in the physical realm, not in some Platonic abstraction or religious platitude, but rather in sunshine, in the leaves of a tree, in the eternity of ongoing nature.
Perhaps this sampling will give a flavor of this fine little collection of literary work. In short, Life: A Users Manual is a very thought-provoking book, not for the narrow-minded or the parochial. It will lend no easy comfort but will expand and widen the mind and soul.
reviewed by Arlene Arnold
There is so much available to us that might be considered transformational tools. I have basically narrowed this area to "hands-on" tools: those things we can experience visually or intuitively. Music and books can certainly be transformational, but for our purposes here I have included only those books that lead us deeper into an intuitive art or which can be used as an oracle. What I have included only scratches the surface, but may introduce you to a tool you havent been aware of until now.
Lets start with astrology. Findhorn Press has brought us an interesting set called The Zodiac Pack: Astrology for the Aquarian Age for $34.95. Included is a large foldout template. By placing the colorful cards representing planets, zodiac signs, elements, angles, and houses in their proper places on the chart, you create a visual image of your chart. For one new to the science, its a great way to understand astrology; if youre used to studying astrology, this approach can take you deeper. "Conventional astrology teaches through the linear left brain, offering intellectual comprehension. The Zodiac Pack cards speak to the non-verbal right brain, facilitating an intuitive connection to the celestial ideas and symbolic pictures within the zodiac."
Add to this Astrological Intelligence: A Practical System for Making Lifes Everyday Decisions" ($14, softcover). Three Rivers Press introduces a helpful look at how we each approach life through our astrological sign and how that affects our relationships with others whose signs differ. Andrea Valaria offers a look at our choices through "six stages: Approaching: whenever you begin something; Questioning: when you find yourself asking; Strategies: when you start devising a plan; Negotiating: when you actually begin relating; Bonding: when you make the connection; and Building: when you start thinking about tomorrows." As I read about Aries, I could see myself clearly! I also looked up the suggested approach to several others in my family based on their sign. Makes sense to me.
How can astrology help you understand your child? An Astrological Guide to Your Child by Leticia Parmer (Carol Publishing Group, $10.95, softcover) highlights insights that allow you to know how your child will react to different situations, what disciplining technique will work best, and how to encourage your childs talents and abilities. The first section reveals the personality through the childs sun, moon, and ascendant signs. The second section gives a fuller picture through the different houses (aspects of the childs life). Paying attention to this information could make raising your child easier for you, and definitely more appropriate for your child.
Oracles abound. I always find them fun and enlightening as long as I remember that the truth is inside me. The oracles serve to remind me of what I already know.
Destiny Cards: Your Birth Card and What It Reveals About Your Past, Present and Future by Robert Camp (Sourcebooks, Inc. $24.95 soft cover) is an amazing way to use a regular deck of cards and your birthday (you dont even have to know the year) to look at your life. (See the article in this issue that allows you a taste of what is here.) You must be willing to spend the time gleaning the information, but the effort is worth it. Also check out his web site.
I worked out my 1998 layout. The period I am in currently brought up my granddaughter several times and indicated health issues. At this writing, she is in the hospital recovering from surgery and still has health challenges ahead. Does that mean her illness was inevitable? Perhaps its part of a larger plan we dont totally understand; yet, within that plan we still have choices in how we will respond to circumstances and what we will learn from them, and even, perhaps, the outcome.
Titanias Oraqle: A Unique Way to Predict Your Future (The Overlook Press, $25 hardcover) uses basic questions you might want answers to, plus your intuition, to access information that lies dormant within. Do you want to know "Is there any romantic potential for me with
?" "When will my health improve?" "Shall I carry out the plans I am making?" These are only a few of the questions that can be answered. Be sure you want the answers; from my experience, its quite accurate.
The Goddess Speaks: Myths, Meditations, Symbols and Sacred Sites (Sibyl Publications, $29.95 revised expanded edition) allows you to sit with each card you choose, feel it, read its message, and then delve more deeply into the meaning of each goddess by reading the book. These cards can be used individually or in groups. For personal guidance, the suggested layout will indicate information about the "Question or situation you bring to the Goddess," your "Inner response and Goddess guidance," and the "Action to take." I like the uniqueness of each goddess, the feeling that her energy has been around for a long time, and the satisfaction of knowing she is available to assist me in the here and now.
The Bamboo Oracle: Confucian Wisdom for Every Day (Journey Editions, $26.95) combines the soft, caressing energy of the bamboo, the tradition of the I Ching, the wise sayings of Confucius, and the inspiration of its author, Chao-Hsiu Chen. This multitalented woman wishes "to introduce to the West the Chinese art of ennobling the character and living a happy life on the basis of Confucian wisdom." The energy of this set alone will calm you and help you to center
For double the fun and double the pleasure, Running Press Fortune Telling kit ($15.95) includes both a mini-book packed with easy-to-understand information about palm reading and a deck of tarot cards called "Tarot Nova," along with a compact booklet that explains the tarot cards. For a more in-depth understanding of tarot for the beginner, try Samuel Weisers Learning the Tarot ($14.95, softcover). It includes exercises and practice activities for working with the tarot along with information on some more popular tarot spreads. Or try Gnostic Tarot: Mandalas for Spiritual Transformation" (Samuel Weiser, $16.95, softcover) for an additional twist to the use of tarot. "Gnostic Tarot is presented as a contribution to the rich heritage of spiritual transmutation made possible by reflection and meditation on the ways in which symbolic systems are used to evoke new insights and understanding."
The Alchemy of Possibility (Merrill-West Publishing $24.95, softcover, full color) is a book that combines the tarot with the I Ching through colorful, fascinating artwork and insightful explanations. Choose a card (chapter) from each section to elaborate on: qualities and attributes you need to develop, underlying laws you must understand, personal challenges you must face, and understandings you may incorporate through this reflection. Or, read the book from start to finish for overall learnings and insights.
An oracle of still another kind is The Angels of the Rays (Oughten House Publications, $19.95). Choose an angel (or more than one) of a certain color ray and vibration to work with you. Meditate on its meaning, breathe its color, and allow it to teach you.
From Germany we are graced with Light Beings Master Essences (Arcana Publishing). The full set includes an unusual combination of book, set of cards, and essence (in the form of oil, or tincture) to wear when calling in the ascended master. Each of these may be purchased and used alone or in combination. Learn about the ascended masters; understand how they can be of assistance in healing and in awakening the inner potential. The book creates the framework of understanding; the cards allow intuitive choosing of whom to work with, and the essences open the portal for the ascended masters. Healing practitioners will find that using these tools may expand their clients overall experience.
CRYSTALS & GEMS
There have been many books written about the subject of crystals and gems. Three have come across my desk recently. In Crystal Ball Gazing (Fireside Books, $11 softcover), Uma Silbey shares information she has gathered from her over three decades of crystal ball reading. Silbey takes you from an understanding and background of crystals to choosing a crystal ball, how to care for it, how to read it, practical applications for it, and how it can take you beyond this time and space. This is a clear, in-depth resource for those drawn to crystal balls.
A very different framework of understanding emerges from a little book called Prismind: Scientific Theory of Crystal Consciousness by Zach Shatz (Prismind Publications, $4.95 softcover). This is not necessarily an easy read; however, you will be fascinated. What do prisms have to do with the humanities, physical sciences, intuitive sciences, linguistic sciences, philosophy, and science in general? Here is a thread and an understanding that brings wholeness to all we experience and know.
Moving in yet another direction, we find gemstones and crystals used for healing. Michael Katz, author of Gemisphere Luminary, has followed the guidance of the Gemstone Guardians to create a collection of therapy gemstone necklaces. This beautiful spiral-bound book is actually a catalog, available for $10. Each gemstone is explained and beautifully photographed in full color. I enjoy it as a work of art and simple reference guide in and of itself.
Gaining insight from your dreams can be helpful as you awaken within. The following tools might be useful. The Lucid Dreaming Kit by Devereux (Journey Editions, $22.95) not only explains how to access your dreams, but also offers an audiotape and essence oil to assist in the process. I found the comparison of "lucid dreaming" to the use of the "virtual reality" headset located in the brain very exciting. Imagine entering a whole inner world you can explore and roam freely. You might even meet some folks you know!
Add to that Dreams (Running Press, $15.95). Pick a fanciful card from the "Dream Pack." It may inspire your unconscious mind. Intuitively, you will know what you need to explore in your sleep. Then, place the tiny book of dream symbols next to your bed. When you awake to write down your dream, look up the meaning of what you have seen in that inner movie. The symbolism may help you make sense of it.
For waking contemplation, try Neale Donald Walschs Re-MINDer Cards (ReCreation, $12). Have a situation or question in mind, choose a card, and receive tidbits of wisdom from Conversations with God, a book authored by Walsch. Then begin your own conversation with God. While writing this article, I picked "Relationship Your relationship to all things, was created as the perfect tool in the work of the soul." Or use the ever-popular mini Medicine Cards called "Just for Today." Each animal in this deck points to what you need to focus on for the day. Its amazing how everything around us can bring us answers. I am grateful for so many tools of the soul.
And now for some odd favorites I found among the smorgasbord that comes to us at The New Times. Pick up a copy of Dance of the Dance by David L. Laing (Elohim Art and Books, $14.95). Laing has brought the movement of dance into form through drawings and inspired verbal portrayals. As you feel each visual image and ingest the thoughts presented by the main character, "Dance," you move step by step through the unfolding of the cosmos. "It is energy itself telling its own story." You may decide to color the wonderful line drawings or just sit with them in mediation.
Phoenix of the Heart presents Sacred Energy Mandalas (workbook $25, set of posters $15, set of postcards $10). The colors and sacred geometry draw you into their movement and energy, which becomes a meditation of body, mind, and soul. As you live with these mandalas you may become their attributes: Compassion, Wisdom, Love and Oneness. I also see them as framed art in a meditative area in a home.
Another form of mandala art is Martha Bartfelds "Magic Mandala" spiral bound coloring book (Mandalart Creations, $19.95). This comes complete with a set of colored pencils. As you color the symbols, you remember within your body and mind what you know deep within. As I gaze at certain of the designs, I feel the activation of my third eye. Martha has heard from the daughter of an Alzheimer patient; those working with children suffering from autism, hyperactivity, short attention spans or learning problems; and a transformational therapist who works with troubled teens. All indicate that coloring the mandalas may become part of the healing and awakening process.
Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them by Angeles Arrien (Tarcher/Putnam, $18.95, softcover) is the result of many years of studying various cultures to find if there are similarities of symbols and shapes that carry like meanings. She found that "five basic shapes appear in the art of all cultures: the circle, the square, the triangle, the cross, and the spiral. The study also confirmed that people in different cultures do give similar meanings to these shapes." Through her "Preferential Shapes Test," she discovered a tool and key to an individuals transformation and liberation. From a very involved and in-depth study, Angeles Arrien has created a simple, lovely, profound mix of shapes, stories, tests, and cultural tidbits that move us closer to the wholeness that touches the center of our being.
Ever since I first saw the book I Ching, the Tao of Drumming by Michael Drake (Talking Drum Publications, $14.95) I have been fascinated by it. Its one more way to experience the connection of all things. Drake instructs the drummer to create rhythmic patterns. These can be assembled to drum the four elements, the four directions, and the I Ching hexagrams. "It is a synthesis, a blending of rhythmic knowledge from Taoism, shamanism, and the philosophical wisdom of the I Ching." The inspiration that comes from these philosophies can now be felt through the vibration of drumming.
Milagros: A Book of Miracles by Helen Thompson and Paddy Bruce (HarperSanFrancisco, $15.95, hardcover) heralds a look at a tradition of Latin America. Milagros are talismans, sacred representations that can be carried with one for a blessing or reminder. Many common milagros are depicted and explained in this fascinating book. What I like best is the suggestion that you can make your own milagros. I intend to do just that with my grandson!
Yoga Cards (Findhorn Press, $19.95): what a great idea! Celia Hawe gets my vote. She has clearly described and illustrated yoga positions and moves on large, readable cards. You can choose from a Complete Session to an Emergency Session, and everything in between. The cards are color coded, so you pick a card from each section indicated for your session. You can make that choice by reading each card or by selecting them intuitively. I like the idea that I can begin immediately, without watching a whole video or reading an entire book.
Finally, if you want a lighter approach to spiritual growth, try Games for the Soul: 40 Playful Ways to Find Fun and Fulfillment in a Stressful World by Drew Leder (published by Hyperion, $11.95, softcover). Though this approach is lighthearted, it is by no means shallow. It draws on principles from many spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American, Judaism, and Christianity. Start each morning with a five-minute read that will challenge you to a soul game to carry on throughout your day. Before you know it, you will have developed new ways to see, hear, act, and react.
And so weve run the gamut. Among these, Im sure you will find something new and inspiring to assist your transformation. Have fun; celebrate while you learn more about you.
reviewed by Elana Lindquist
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