Monday, October 8, 2012

Guest Post: Andrew Cort, author of The Door Is Open

Dr. Andrew Cort

Please join me in welcoming 
Dr. Andrew Cort,
author of The Door Is Open,
MindSpirit Book Journeys!!

Andrew Cort
Paperback, 186 pages
May 19, 2012
Genre: Religion, Mythology, Spirituality

Dr. Cort is an authority on religion and spirituality, as well as mythology, politics, history, science, education, and healing.  He has written several books on these topics.  His most recent one, The Door Is Open, deals with the fascinating subject of the steps to spiritual awakening, as presented in world scriptures and mythologies.  This is an absolutely fascinating, as well as vitally important, one.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

For The Love of Books

 "You fall in love with every book you touch. You never break the spine or tear the pages. That would be cruel. You have secret favorites but, when asked, you say that you could never choose. But did you know that books fall in love with you, too? "

The quote above is from an essay written by an author I have recently re-discovered. The title is "Just So You Know". The author's name is Sarah Addison Allen.

I had seen one of Allen's novels in a Barnes & Noble store about two years ago, and made a mental note to purchase the book later. The book's title is Garden Spells. I had somehow forgotten the book and its author, however. Inexcusable behavior for an inveterate bookworm like me! In a rather serendipitous manner, the book has now gotten my attention again, and I now know I am meant to buy it. How else can I make sense of this little coincidence?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Further Thoughts on Creating a Nonfiction Book Blog

When I first started blogging, I simply began with what I was then reading, which happened to be a novel.  As time went on, I jumped on the YA bandwagon, and started adding these books to my already rather lengthy TBR list.  This took me down a rather long stretch of time in which I mostly read fiction, albeit slowly, since I'm by no means a speed reader.  Besides, my two jobs take up quite a bit of my time.  Of course, I do need food and other necessities in order to survive; hence, I am in no position to quit either job.  Anyway, during my first year as a blogger, I did tend to read more fiction, with a nonfiction book here and there as I went along. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements
Don Miguel Ruiz
Paperback, 160 pages
Amber-Allen Publishing
November 7, 1997
Non-Fiction, New Age, Philosophy, Psychology
Source: Purchased from Amazib

This small book contains some down-to-earth, very practical advice for everyday living, presented by a man who is an internationally renowned spiritual teacher, and formerly a neurosurgeon.  The book is supposedly based on the teachings of the Toltecs, an ancient indigenous people who lived in the area now known as Mexico.  According to Wikipedia, "The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec the epitome of civilization..." This is a primer of the Toltec philosophy, detailing a path that is easy and hard to follow at the same time.  I had been hearing about this book for some time now, but had never picked it up.  It caught my eye while I was browsing in a bookstore recently, so I bought it.

Although I will say that this is a very fascinating and profound book, one that should be re-read, and pondered upon, several times, I find that I can't wholeheartedly support its teachings, despite the fact that there is much I do concur with.  Besides, having read some of the Amazon reviews, I'm now wondering whether all this is really "ancient Toltec wisdom"...

Ruiz asks a very important question, although he does so toward the end of the book: are we really and truly free?  His answer is a resounding "no".  The reason for that is, according to these teachings, that we have an accumulation of negative programming, erroneous assumptions, emotional wounds, and cultural influences which we carry around in our minds.  All of these things keep us from seeing the world as it really is.  Interestingly, psychologists have been saying this very same thing for years now. 

The Toltecs were considered men and women of knowledge, and they founded a community of teachers known as naguals, based in the city of Teotihuacan, Mexico.  After the Spanish conquest, these teachings became secret, being handed down from generation to generation.  Don Miguel Ruiz, a nagual of the lineage of the Eagle Warriors, decided to publish this book in order to reveal this previously hidden knowledge.

The basic premise of Toltec philosophy, as expounded by Ruiz, is that the mind is always dreaming, whether a person is awake or asleep.  When awake, people participate in what is called "the planetary dream", a collective dream consisting of all the societal rules, beliefs, religions, and cultures on the planet.  In addition to this, there is each person's personal dream, each individual's inner programming.  Due to all this, adds Ruiz, we live as if in a fog, which the Toltecs called mitote, known as maya in Indian (from India) philosophy.  Both of these words mean "illusion".

In order to become free, one must break one's old "agreements", as well as adopt the four agreements recommended by Ruiz.  Thus, according to the author, a new dream will be created.

The first agreement is to be "impeccable" with one's words, since words are such powerful things.  They contain the power of creation.  The term "impeccable" comes from Latin, and means "without sin".  According to Ruiz's definition of sin, it's whatever a person does that goes against him or herself.  So "being impeccable with your words" means, to Ruiz, never saying anything derogatory about yourself.  The author adds that words are "the instrument of magic".  He extends this to others, as well, giving as an example the way that parents say negative things to their children, thus unintentionally imprinting them in their children's subconscious minds.  This is part of the personal negative programming referred to earlier.

The second agreement is to take nothing personally.  In practical application, if someone insults you, the insult really says something about the person who insulted you, and nothing at all about you.  In other words, if someone calls you names, that person is speaking out of his/her own prejudices, preconceived notions, and opinions.  They are attempting to send you their personal poison, and, if you take that personally, you take in their venom, thus becoming an easy prey for future insults, or worse -- even black magic, according to the author.  Conversely, if someone praises you, you shouldn't take it personally, either.  Whatever people think of you doesn't matter, according to Ruiz, because you know you're wonderful!

The third agreement is to avoid making any assumptions.  We frequently do just that, asserts the author, and then believe our own assumptions as the truth.  Then we engage in gossip, thus passing our personal venom on to others, and causing problems for ourselves as well as those who take in our venom.  He also cites the example of a couple who get married with different assumptions, or expectations, of what marriage will be like.  Problems arise when these assumptions are seen to be unreal, when the expectations of one spouse are not met by the other.

The fourth agreement is to do your personal best, which will vary according to your health or energy level at any given moment.  In other words, you should always strive to work at your maximum capacity, living your life intensely, no matter what you do.  This means to engage in action, and this will lead to happiness if you do it because of the action itself, without expecting any reward.  What he's actually recommending is to not let life pass you by.

In evaluating this book as a whole, I have to point out some major disagreements I have with the author.  

First of all, Ruiz states, in his introduction, "The Smokey Mirror", that everything and everyone is God.  I do not subscribe to a pantheistic philosophy or religion.  Objectively speaking, however, this can immediately be shown to be a false assumption made by most New Age gurus.  If everyone is God, why is there so much evil in the world?  Surely gods would not intentionally cause harm to their fellow gods!  

I do agree with Ruiz's assertion that the universe is made of light.  Well, the Judeo-Christian God did say, "Let there be light", after all.  Besides, findings in quantum physics bear this out.  Just because everything and everyone is made of light, though, doesn't mean that human beings are gods, or God. 

Another problem I have with the book is with Ruiz's definition of sin.  It's much too narrow; sin, as understood in religious belief, is not only the evil that one carries out against oneself, but also against one's fellow human beings.  Ironically, the author moves from this narrow definition to a larger one when he subsequently states that human beings too frequently use their words to tear others down.  He does attempt to clarify his concept of sin by stating that when you say something negative to someone, you're really saying it to yourself.  Still, this part is a bit confusing, and bears re-reading. 

The agreement I have the biggest problem with is the second one.  If I'm supposed to take nothing personally, what exactly does that mean?  I can see that dismissing an insult by a random stranger will contribute to my own peace of mind, hence, my own freedom.  However, what about betrayal by a business associate, or by my spouse?  Am I not to take such things personally, either?  Does this mean I should not react in my defense in the face of abuse by others, whether that abuse is verbal, emotional, or physical?  If someone beats me up, should I simply shrug, and go on about my business, telling myself that, well, the beating says something about them, after all, and has nothing whatsoever to do with me?  Should I continue to tolerate future beatings?  Are there such things as personal boundaries in Toltec philosophy?

With this agreement, it sure seems as if the author is attempting to exonerate those who do hurtful things to others.  So, if someone does something terrible to you, it's just because of their negative programming, and you should not get upset?  According to Ruiz, you shouldn't.  Okay... so that does away with conscience, as well as morality, in one fell swoop, doesn't it?  And if I do something hurtful to another person, that person should shrug it off, too.  So that means there are no consequences for one's behavior, whether good or bad...  No one is to be held accountable for their actions, then, because they're just acting out of their previous programming.  Very 'inspirational', 'enlightened' stuff, this! 

Last but not least, I find the concept of "the planetary dream" objectionable, as well.  It's true that there are no perfect societies or governments in this world.  One culture may indeed stifle personal freedom, as opposed to another.  The mind may indeed be held prisoner by certain erroneous beliefs.  However, Ruiz (as a proponent of Toltec philosophy) lumps all of the rules, religions and cultures into one gigantic mess that supposedly restricts the freedom of the mind.  This is just too simplistic.  There must be societal rules, as well as systems of belief.  It is our personal responsibility to discern which of them are true, and liberate the mind, and which do not.  To say that they all enslave the mind is totally inaccurate.

There is a grain of truth in what Ruiz propounds in this book.  Each of his "agreements" does have some validity, especially the third and the fourth.  I also concur with the first, especially when extended to include others. 

I believe that the third agreement is possibly the most important of the four.  Making erroneous assumptions about people and situations can have horrible consequences.  In an unbalanced mind, possessed by its own delusions, it can even lead to mass shootings.  In this sense, I do agree with the author that a mind can be enslaved, causing what he terms "the dream of hell".

To sum up, although the ideas presented in this book do have some validity, I believe there are some concepts I simply cannot and will never accept.  I'm planning to study this book to see how I might apply these four agreements.  Ruiz's deceptively simple recommendations do merit some consideration, in spite of all the objections I have raised.  However, the second agreement has to be implemented very carefully, and not in every single situation. So I think it should be tempered with discernment and common sense. 

I might end up revising my opinion of this book to some degree in the future, although I can't see myself completely following or endorsing the author's teachings or suggestions. And I will surely never come to believe that all of us humans are either gods, or part of God. This is, quite simply, an outright New Age lie. Not only are we not currently gods, or even part of God, but we will never be, either.There is a very obvious ontological difference between human beings and the Supreme Being,as anyone with a sane mind capable of reasoning can readily perceive.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Daily Guidance From Your Angels, by Doreen Virtue

Daily Guidance From Your Angels: 365 Angelic Messages To Soothe, Heal, and Open Your Heart
Doreen Virtue
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Hay House
October 1, 2007
Genre: Non-Fiction, Metaphysical, New Age
Source: Purchased from Amazon

The author of this book, Doreen Virtue, is well-known in metaphysical circles for her psychic skills.  According to her, this is a channeled work, which means that she did not actually write any of the material contained in the book, except for the introduction.  Instead, she received the messages from the angels, transcribing and then publishing them in book form.  Although I must confess to some skepticism in this regard, I can say that this is a very beautiful book, full of inspiring thoughts and practical advice.   It's also a very spiritual one, with entries that deal with such things as making time to commune with God, blessing everyone one meets, and letting go of one's past painful memories.   Reading positive, beautiful thoughts like these is sure to shift one's negative moods.  Despondency and anger gently transmute to peace and serene joy as one absorbs these messages.

This is not a book to be read in one or even two sittings.  Indeed, the book doesn't have to be read sequentially, or even finished, because one never does finish it!  Instead, the reader can come back to refresh the spirit time and time again, dwelling especially on those messages that are most appropriate at the moment. 

The reader can, of course, take one message per day to read, mull over, and internalize.  Each message comes with a beautiful affirmation that sums up the theme of the message.  This affirmation can be memorized or copied on an index card to be carried around during the day, being pulled out from time to time in order to refresh the message in one's mind. 

The book can also be used as a divination tool, so to speak.  For instance, one can sit in silence for a few minutes, holding a specific question or issue in mind, and then open the book at random.  Whenever I have done this, I have found that the resulting message (or messages, if the ones on each facing page have similar themes) was just what I needed to be aware of at that precise point. 

I have several copies of this book -- one of them is the hardcover version of this edition, another is the paperback.  I also have the gift edition, shown below.  I even have the Spanish translation, which I'm currently dipping into for some much-needed peace of mind.  So that's four copies of this book!  I might buy more, too, because, since I literally live inside a library (well, an apartment, but there are so many books in it it might as well be a library...), I don't always have a book at hand just when I most want it! 

I do have the Spanish-language edition with me right now, so I can give readers some idea of the beautiful things contained in this book, translated back into English. 

Here are some of the message titles: "Find Light in the Darkness" (message #14), "Speak to Yourself with Loving Words" (message #19), "Be an Example of Peace" (message #21), "Give Your Worries to God" (message #31), "Polish the Jewels in your Innermost Thoughts" (message #33), "Change Negative Energy to Positive Energy" (message #35), "Express Your Feelings in Creative Ways" (message #78), "Be Aware of Your Thoughts" (message #79), and many other beautiful ones.

I have found this wonderful book especially useful whenever I have felt depressed because of a disagreement with someone, whether at home or at work.  All I have to do is open this book to a random page, or leaf through it until I find the perfect message, and start reading.  After reading through a given message once, I re-read it at least twice more, sounding the words out slowly in my mind.  Doing this invariably calms me.   I then go to the affirmation at the bottom of the page, which I frequently copy out in a small notebook that I like to carry around with me from time to time. 

One of the really soothing things about this book is the great number of messages related to self-esteem.  There are so many of them, with titles like "Pamper Yourself" (message #5), "Be Patient with Yourself" (message 8), "Be Aware that You are a Blessing to the World" (message #12), "Give Your Imagination Free Rein" (message #58), and many others.

Although some of the messages contain typical New Age ideas that I as a Christian may not totally agree with, I have found quite a few that do resonate with Christian values.  So I adhere to those that do, and discard the rest.  Readers who belong to other faiths will still feel uplifted when reading these positive, peaceful thoughts, since the themes of self-esteem, love, peace, creative expression, and blessing one's fellow human beings are universal ones, after all.

I highly recommend this book as a wonderful spiritual tool to help one achieve and maintain a state of calm serenity in the face of all the stress and crazy-making going on in the world!


Opening the Mind and the Spirit

It's a new the cliche resounds through my mind, I am aware that I want, and need, expansion -- into further realms of the paradise that books are to me.  I need to not only review and talk about fiction genres, but about nonfiction ones, as well. 

I've started this blog for the express purpose of exploring the deeper side of my nature -- the side that loves to analyze, probe, and experience for myself the inner worlds of mind and spirit. 

I invite you to step with me into this new world, journeying along with me as I write about those books that have challenged, instructed, and helped me grow in unimaginable ways!

Welcome to MindSpirit Book Journeys!