Category Archives: Book Reviews 2014

What is Reality? Review: ‘Into the Land of Snows’ by Ellis Nelson

Ellis Nelson clearly states the credo informing her writing, right from the start of this well-written and illuminating book, with an opening quote from Ayradeva:

‘Entertaining just a doubt

Tears to tatters worldly existence’

Into the Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson

Into the Land of Snows operates at two levels. On one, it is the pacy ‘coming of age’ tale of Blake, a young American in his mid-teens, unhappy and confused following his parents’ recent divorce for which at the start of the book he blames his father, Dr McCormack. The latter is a medic on an expedition to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, known by the Sherpa people of the region as Chomolungma, Goddess of the World. 

Blake’s mother, worried  on finding a marihuana joint in his pocket, sends him off to join his father at Everest’s base camp in a bid to get him away from bad influences at home and also to enable some quality time between father and son. Following a serious mountain accident, however, Dr McCornack sends Blake away for safety reasons in the care of Ang Thondup, a trusted, experienced Sherpa mountain guide. 

The book charts Blake’s process of maturation as a result of intense exposure to Tibetan Buddhist culture whose beliefs and values – centring round what reality may be – are bewilderingly and challengingly different from those of the highly materialist West in which Blake has been growing up. The hardships and adventures he and Ang encounter on their journey, an important part of which is Blake’s solo venture to effect Ang’s successful rescue, are also vividly portrayed. 

Central to the whole plot is an old camera gifted to Blake by Dawa, a young Sherpa, on which Blake is excited to find not only what seems to be a photograph featuring George Mallory, the famous missing explorer from the 1920s whose frozen corpse was found not long ago on Everest, but also what could be the world’s first authentic photo of a Yeti, the fabled Abominable Snowman of many tales and legends.

 Blake’s initial excitement and desire to share this discovery on his return home to the USA is challenged in a most interesting way by a wise lama he encounters to whom Ang, a former monk, decides to give the camera – much to Blake’s initial anger and feelings of betrayal.

The outcome of this ‘coming of age’ tale which I will leave for the reader to discover, is satisfyingly positive. 

At another level, however, I detect a deeper purpose on the part of Ellis Nelson than that of writing an interesting, absorbing and unusual adventure story initially aimed at a young readership.

The clue is in the quotation which heads up the whole book and this post. Through immersing the reader in a very different way of life to that of our Western culture increasingly dominated by a materialist, reductionist ethos, Ellis Nelson takes us on a journey through various well-documented aspects of  Buddhist, and in particular Tibetan Buddhist, culture and religion.

We hear about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, basic tenets of Buddhist belief and practice. We find out about the Bardo states which occur after death, how they are negotiated, and why it is thus the case that bodies must be left undisturbed for three days after people die.

We encounter runners so light that their bodies have to be weighted down with chains; monks who dip themselves in freezing rivers, warming their bodies and drying their clothes through mind power; sky burial in which corpses are chopped up and fed to the high plains vultures. We encounter telepathic communication from the wise lama, temporary custodian of Blake’s camera, in order to reassure both Blake and Ang whilst Blake is effecting the latter’s rescue.

The piece de resistance, however, occurs in a remote mountain cave inhabited by a solitary monk.Whilst finding a rope with which to rescue Ang who is trapped on a ledge fifty feet below the damaged path they are travelling, Blake witnesses something startling, scary and utterly challenging to our conventional notions of the boundary between illusion and reality. 

The chanting and meditating monk, his back to Blake, conjures out of a coil of smoke the very Yeti pictured on Blake’s photograph – complete with its stink, its piercing scream of fear and its rushing out of the cave when Blake touches it. He discovers that it is indeed ‘real’….

I enjoyed reading Into the Land of Snows very much. Having already over a number of years read extensively about Buddhist religion and practices, as well as being an intermittent meditator myself, none of the material Ellis presents here is new to me although I find reflecting on it compelling all over again.

 I think that any open-minded reader encountering this book would be drawn to read more searchingly and more deeply from this able introduction. Ellis Nelson in Into the Land of Snows hasn’t just been telling a vivid story.

She has been challenging us to take a long, hard look at what we think ‘reality’ actually is….

Ellis Nelson

Ellis Nelson

Fiction Writer:

Ellis Nelson has served as an Air Force officer, government contractor, and teacher.  She has had an interest in Buddhism since childhood.  Currently, she lives in Colorado Springs, CO with her husband.  Email contact: himalayaspencerellis(at)yahoo.com.  You may also friend Ellis Nelson on FACEBOOK or follow on TWITTER.

Her first book was published in Feb. 2012. 

Mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write. WB Yeats

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900 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Ellis Nelson 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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A ‘wisdom book’: “Keywords to Unlock Chiron” by Joyce Mason

“Keywords to Unlock Chiron” 

Keywords to Unlock Chiron by Joyce Mason

50 Passageways to Healing and Wholeness

by Joyce Mason

Weaver – Mentor – Centaur – Stuck – Stringed Instruments – Healing Humor – Shame – Left and Right Brain – Abandonment – Evolution: just a few of the keywords Joyce Mason uses to unlock the doorway to deep, deep wisdom contained within the archetype of the mythical being known as Chiron: half man, half horse – best known in Western popular culture as the Wounded Healer.

Joyce is a healer herself with many strings to her lyre: prolific writer, seasoned astrologer, flower essences practitioner, dreamworker, to name but a few. Here in her own words is the essence of her book:

“ Seldom in life do we get such a personalised prescription of what’s wrong and how to fix it. These 50 keyword essays will help you identify where you’re stuck and suggest how you can get from pain to breakthrough and healing–and ultimately to being yourself in your full glory. Your personal message lies in which keywords ‘hit home’ for you.”

As the reader will discover from Other Astrology Books by Joyce Mason on pp 279-281, Joyce has written extensively on Chiron in the past, both in published books and on her blog The Radical Virgo. This book, however, is somewhat different in that Joyce’s focus is on the Chiron archetype itself and an exploration of 50 branches arising therefrom.

Chiron symbolises the deep wound present to a greater or lesser degree in all of us, fallible imperfect creatures, uneasy blends of body and spirit; endlessly curious, forever seeking answers to why we are here and what we are supposed to do with our brief time on Earth. Chiron also symbolises the depth and wisdom we can gain by addressing and seeking to heal that wound, both in ourselves and others.

Ultimately, facing and accepting our vulnerability, together with realisation of our inter-connectedness with the whole of life, and the healing power of love: these are our salves and our saviours.

Joyce’s Keywords to Unlock Chiron is surely a ‘wisdom book’. It is a wonderful distillation of her knowledge, personal and professional experience drawn from a deep and wide range of sources: science, myth, symbol systems including astrology and Tarot, astronomy, and culture both contemporary and ancient.

She writes so well, with wit, reverence, irreverence and above all compassion both for her own frailty and ours. Open sharing of core aspects of her personal story demonstrates that she is not trying to tell us how we should live from her somewhat higher plane of existence. She makes it clear that, in the struggle to come to terms with the wounding which hopefully in the end makes us a bit wiser and more skilled in the fraught business of living, we are all in it together.

There are many examples which I could quote of deeply helpful wisdom offered in this book. In Chapter 24, Disowned, there is a very challenging question posed: ‘What would you rather die than do?’ Joyce’s answer to this is ‘I’d rather die than move (house)’  which leads into a discussion of how we all to a greater or lesser extent, disown parts of ourselves, to our detriment.

Joyce then offers seven “Tips for Not Disowning Yourself” including ‘Listen objectively to things others point out that you’re missing or denying, especially if you hear the same thing from several different people.’ I commend this section to any individual honest enough to be working towards personal growth and change, as well as any therapy practitioner looking for some inspiration to bring to their client work.

In Appendix 3, p273, Joyce provides information for people with little or no knowledge of astrology who wish to obtain a copy of their own horoscope and find out where Chiron is placed in their case.

The whole book is also filled with useful web and other references to a wonderful range of resources – arising from the core Chironic keyword of Wholeness.

The book is of value also to students and practitioners of astrology. From that perspective, this reviewer certainly felt as though she had been comprehensively re- acquainted with the depth and practical value of understanding Chiron’s natal position as well as Chiron transits.

But it is important to stress that Keywords to Unlock Chiron should not be seen primarily as a book for astrologers or those interested specifically in astrology.

As I said earlier, it is a ‘wisdom book’, a great resource for anyone of a reflective nature, who may be practising as a healer of others, to have in their library to turn to for inspiration, information or support in difficult times. Be guided by how you are feeling in seeking help from the book’s wisdom. As Joyce says herself: Your personal message lies in which keywords ‘hit home’ for you.”

Joyce, thank you for this wonderful compendium. It truly deserves to be widely read.

Keywords to Unlock Chiron by Joyce Mason

Keywords to Unlock Chiron by Joyce Mason

As per her original book release announcement, Joyce is offering this book in PDF in order to make the material available, at least in some form, sooner rather than later. The announcement describes her book in detail, including contents, other brief reviews and the advantages/disadvantages of the PDF format, including the ways to access it on various reader devices. Due to extensive other commitments, I understand that she may be unable to print it to paperback and eReader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) until 2015.

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900 words copyright Anne Whitaker /2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Review of ‘The Stellium Handbook’ by Donna Cunningham, MSW

Donna Cunningham succinctly sums up the purpose of this very practical, very comprehensive two-part handbook thus:

“….consider this book a long-term guide to increasing self awareness by using the tools youll encounter here.

The Stellium Handbook by Donna Cunningham

The Stellium Handbook by Donna Cunningham

Many consulting astrologers will have had the experience of putting up a client’s chart prior to the consultation, seeing a log jam of several planets in one place, and thinking Oh no! Why didnt they choose someone else to read their chart? If the astrologer, too, has one of those log jams, or stelliums to give them their proper title, that reaction may be amplified. Practitioners do the best they can, with varying degrees of success, to analyse and explain as constructively as possible to clients what their stellium means – but doing so represents quite a challenge for the astrologer’s empathy and skill.

Help, however, has arrived from master astrologer and writer Donna Cunningham who draws on her long and deep experience both in astrological and related fields to produce this first ever thorough, in-depth work on stelliums – a very much needed aid for readers of varying levels of astrological knowledge.  (if you think it should be stellia, by the way, check out what Donna says in the footnote on page 15!) Her commitment is to make the book available to everyone with stelliums, not just astrologers or astrology students.

It is written with Donna’s signature depth, clarity, humour and compassion. One of her gifts is to be able to be briskly honest and realistic about the most difficult topics, but in such a compassionate, often witty way that the reader feels encouraged rather than squashed by the information provided.

The core aim of the book is to help stellium folk find their ‘mission’ in life, as revealed by the stellium’s planetary composition and location in sign(s) and house(s), andto focus on that in a more constructive way, with the emphasis on self-help throughout.

She does this very thoroughly and effectively: first defining what a stellium actually IS, then with the aid of various worksheets, leading the reader through detailed analysis and weighting – in order of significance and impact – of the major planet/sign/house/Angle/Node combinations. Want to find out what the ‘Alpha Dog Planet’ is, to give one example? Then check out Chapter 10 which presents the ‘Story Arc and Cast of Characters’ in your stellium.

The book is abundantly amplified with fascinating case material: from motivational speaker Nick Vujicic who was born without arms and legs, to actor Johnny Depp, Prince William of the UK, and a range of real-life examples drawn from readers and commenters on Donna’s Skywriter blog as well as the many articles to be found there. The pdf format of the book enables readers to click through to a pleasing range of relevant back-up material from Donna’s many books, as well as blogs and internet sites which will help to deepen and widen one’s knowledge base.

As an experienced practitioner, the chapters I found most useful were 12 and 13. Chapter 12 lists and discusses the five outer planet conjunctions between 1960 and 2010, including the Uranus/Pluto which dominated the 1960s, and the Uranus/Neptune which dominated the 1990s, both marking whole generations of people born under them. Chapter 13 presents and analyses – complete with a useful fact sheet – the ‘Capricorn Stellium Generation,’ born under therare and powerful super conjunction of  Uranus, Saturn and Neptune in Capricorn illuminating how it affects the lives of people born with it.

Chapter 14 pulls the whole book together, guiding the reader through how to get the most out of their stellium or triple conjunction. Topics covered include ‘Doing a Research Project on your Stellium’ and ‘Four Books that will Kick your Manifestation Mojo into Overdrive’.

There is a wealth of reference material throughout the book in the form of work and fact sheets, e.g. a Transit Tracking Table from 1990-2020, which will prove of great practical value both to astrology students and teachers. Donna Cunningham is a truly generous practitioner who has shared her knowledge in so many ways over the years with countless clients, students and fellow astrologers.

This fine book, the latest addition to her abundant astrological output, is an essential reference work for all astrologers’ libraries, one to which they can return time and time again as they encounter clients who are trying to come to grips with one of the most challenging, and potentially rewarding, of  all astrological patterns: the stellium.

The Stellium Handbook by Donna Cunningham

The Stellium Handbook by Donna Cunningham

To download a free sampler, click  here:  Stellium Handbook–A Sampler

Find out more about Donna Cunningham’s many books and enjoy a browse through a brilliant selection of articles on her popular blog Sky Writer

800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Starting the year: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” – a favourite book

This book, a timeless spiritual classic,  is a moving and fascinating account of how the contemporary spiritual journey unfolds, with all the difficulties those choosing such a path must face, whatever the depth of their faith, its religious context, or their position in the world.

During my own ‘dark night of the soul’ period of 2001-8 I returned to this book several times, never failing to derive comfort, support and strength from what author and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield had to say. I continue to feel gratitude for his wisdom. Do read my review, let me know what you think, and give yourself a new year treat of acquiring a copy. And by the way, fellow writers reading this, what a brilliant title, don’t you think?!!

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path

My Review:

How’s this for an image of unity and diversity ? “While helicopter gunships flew by and (the Vietnam) war raged around them, Buddha and Jesus stood there like brothers….their arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling….”

In his first best-selling book on meditation “A Path with Heart”, American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes the powerful impact of his first sight of two massive sixty-foot tall statues of the Buddha and Jesus on a small island of the Mekong Delta. “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” is its worthy and equally inspiring successor.

Kornfield has a deep well of experience to draw from: a Buddhist monk in the late Sixties in Thailand, he has since lived with and taught with monks, mystics, students and teachers from many religious traditions in different parts of the world. He also holds a PhD in clinical psychology and practises as a psychotherapist and meditation teacher.

The book is a moving and fascinating account of how the contemporary spiritual journey unfolds, with all the difficulties those choosing such a path must face, whatever the depth of their faith, its religious context, or their position in the world.

He accounts for the universality of spiritual longing very simply: “There is a part of each of us that knows eternity as surely as we know our own name. It may be forgotten or covered over, but it is there….there is a pull to wholeness, to being fully alive….as surely as there is a voyage away, there is a journey home”…and (quoting the poet Rumi) “Grapes want to turn to wine”.

He makes it clear that there is no separate territory labelled “spiritual” to which the devout may escape; spirituality is doing the dishes and dealing with difficult relatives, as well as moments of winter sunlight illuminating the beauty of a cathedral’s stained glass windows, evoking joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Following the spiritual path means making slow peace with the tedious reliability of human imperfection, as we move through the Great Round of living and dying with its inevitable sorrows – and capricious joys.

Many quotations, illustrating the profoundly personal and moving facets of a wide range of journeys from diverse traditions including Christianity, reveal the author’s deep respect for all paths to the Source.

The case material truly makes this book live, letting us see that however unique our particular route may be, the spiritual journey has core stages common to all seekers of all faiths. In our own strivings, he shows us, we are not alone.

It is so heartening and illuminating to read of different seekers’ experiences of the ecstatic: when grace calls forth that sudden falling into radiance, that recognition of indivisibility from Being, or God, or Ultimate Reality, or Emptiness (or the quantum vacuum, if like me you’ve been reading way too many cosmology books of late!).

But there is always the return to The Laundry, that inevitable and often painful coming down to the ordinary, sometimes grubby and unsatisfactory basics of everyday life.

Importantly, he also points out that for many, ecstasy never comes in a dramatic manner, but as a slow, steady deepening of compassion, wisdom and an increasingly peaceful heart – that which is the eventual fruit of sincere and dedicated spiritual practice.

Kornfield writes beautifully, in an honest, open-hearted, humorous and well-earthed way. His book radiates integrity and is obviously rooted in his own long and at times hard struggle to find the spiritual ground of his own being. Just the right degree of personal disclosure makes clear his lack of illusion that being a priest, or a teacher, or a healer of whatever sort, is any kind of vaccination from the pitfalls of the human condition.

Jack Kornfield comes across as a reflective, wise and humble man. Let’s hope that the worldwide success of his books has not changed that! “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” is a timeless treasure, a wonderful companion along the road.

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800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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