Friday, September 24, 2010

The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment — Finished 2010.09.22

My friend RT gave me a copy of this book. I admit that I do not remember either hearing or seeing anything about this book before the day RT presented me with it last week. This is, to my mind rather odd given the range of so-called 'spiritual' books I have read and researched in the last 35 years or so. And I frequent the bibliography section of those books that have them, and don't remember having my eye or my mind's eye catch it.

Thaddeus Golas.
The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment.
Palo Alto, CA.: The Seed Center, 1974.

And in the laziness theme of the book, here is the short review I gave it in my on-line library, GoodReads.
I have an ambivalent reaction to this book. It gave me no new understanding, but I like that Golas has aligned himself with Chuang Tzu and like Taoists who argue against straining and struggling to take actions or achieve understanding. It is likely at a more challenging level to spiritual than an introduction, but unnecessary for people who I have been struggling with the spiritual meanings of life. I quite like his blunt way of stating the obvious truths we delude ourselves into not seeing. As such I keep thinking that it deserves more than 3 stars, but I cannot bring myself to move my rating to 4. Perhaps my concern about it is that like many spiritual guides, it emphasizes the role of mind and attitude in achieving so-called enlightenment at the expense of respecting one's somatic reality, and perhaps well-being. As a society we are completely beholden to products of the mind, be it agri-business's justified land, water and animal abuse, the poisoning of our food products with -icides or business practices with Harvard Business Schooled flow-charted MBA-itis. 
To extend that a bit, I also found that, while what Golas has written is truthful and will likely lead to enlightenment, it seemed to lack some kind of hard to isolate substantiveness. I found myself left feeling a little ... disappointed, somehow, even though it participated in a curious fushigi (or synchronicity-petite) while I was reading it.

I admit that my reaction is very likely a sign that I am indeed un-enlightened. And that is undoubtedly true. But I guess I have grown to enjoy the weight of Jung's and Berman's writing, and the light complexity of Chuang Tzu and the like. Have I become addicted to good writing, at the expense of moving towards enlightenment? Hmmmmm.

☆ ☆ ☆

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Helpless — Finished 2010.09.04

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This is a disturbing book, one that once begun kept me turning the pages. It is very typically Gowdy, meaning that the protagonist is someone amoral who has been humanized. And that is what marks Gowdy apart from the good writer — the ability to bring to her readers a feeling of understanding, and even some empathy, for a completely unsympathetic character. It seems anti-social to think and feel that a child abductor could be human, and not just a caricature of evil. But this is the power of Gowdy's writing.

Gowdy commented that the story she wanted to explore with Helpless was the anguish of a parent whose child disappears. And on the surface the disturbing part of this book is of a mother's horror of a child being abducted by a person or persons unknown. But somehow that story did not dominate the novel. Perhaps, during the writing, the writer's challenge of the abductor's motivation and humanity took over because that part becomes the central driving element of the novel. And what makes the book as disturbing, psychologically, as it is — and it is very disturbing — is the manner of Gowdy's portrayal of the kidnapper.

In her hands the human proceeded along an insane course of action within the bounds of fully justified logic and sound reasoning. There is a disturbing, unsettling empathy that is generated by this character as he proceeds along his path not as an insane evil creature, but as a frail human who has successfully denied to himself the nature of his nature. His self-delusion allows him to perfectly rationalize his actions; within his scope of self denied understanding his motivations are truly honourable and in this psychology he echos our own failings of self understanding, honesty and/or awareness. Not that many of us have stalked and kidnapped children! But where have we, for example, not fallen victim to own self denials, to our own delusions about our motivations or sense of social propriety? Who here on the planet has not rationalized and justified small selfish behaviours as being for some kind of altruistic 'best'? Where have we chosen to live a lie because it served an end which was made to look generous but served our ego's need? When have we mislead someone around us to support us, or manipulated someone to collaborate with us to assuage our feeling of doing something amoral? And how often are we unaware of why it is we do the things we do, ignorant of what motivates us?

And so what makes this book so disturbing is that it powerfully attacks our rationalized albeit unconscious complacency with not knowing ourselves. Ron didn't know what evil lurked in his heart until he took action. Nancy, his girlfriend acquiesced to his evil because acquiescing served her unconscious needs. Thus she was able to deny the un- or quasi-conscious contrary truths. And who can know what evil lurks in the dark corners of our own hearts and souls that we have kept hidden from ourselves because we do not have the courage to explore those recesses? That is disturbing!

Many have commented that the ending felt rushed and left them unsatisfied. This I find puzzling. Well, let me rephrase. From a purely rationalistic perspective, the ending arrives before all the 't's are crossed and 'i's dotted, and with, ostensibly, too 'soft' an ending. And I can see how this gives a feeling that there hasn't been the proper closure normally associated with such a story. But psychologically, I find the ending to be nearly perfect, and even spiritual. The paedophile discovers in the sheen of the child's damp skin the mirror into his soul, into his blackest truth. And even more remarkably, he in a great act of spirituality, accepts the truth of himself, and is then able to turns himself away from his path towards seeming inevitability because he could not longer deny the truth of himself. That many dislike the ending may be because, in a typically Gowdy way, the person who had this epiphany — and he shakes in fear of seeing that face of god in his soul — is such an abhorrent character that this person's journey of self discovery through the abduction of a child, would seem to be an utter waste, from a spiritually meaningful way. Furthermore, Gowdy adds a delightful complexity to the ending with the girlfriend's own smaller epiphany. She doesn't experience an epiphany of self awareness, but, instead, chooses to see the person in front of her, without any sort of self deception or illusion, and accepts her fate as his co-kidnapper.

And this may seem strange — it was to me when it popped into my head, but as I wrote this review how the booked ended reminded of one of the toughest instructions from The I Ching:
[When] one is faced with a danger that has to be overcome...[w]eakness and impatience can do nothing. Only strong [individuals] can stand up to their fate, for [their] inner security enables [them] to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness [with themselves]. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action. For only [people] who go to meet [their] fate resolutely [are] equipped to deal with it adequately (Wilhelm/Baynes 25).
And this is also why this book is so disturbing: a pervert, despite some reluctance, in the end displayed the strength and courage to face himself exactly as he was, and became resolved to meet his fate. Who amongst diurnal man have had the courage to do that? To be shown up by a paedophile, now that is disturbing!

The I Ching. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967. Translated into German by Richard Wilhelm, and into English by C.F. Baynes. It has an introduction by C.G. Jung. ISBN: 069109750X. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Helpless — Begun 2010.09.01

While waiting for my take out pizza — sicilian sausage — to be made and baked, I wandered into the library, ostensibly to look at the CD stacks. But for some reason that bored me today, and so I stumbled into the 'Staff Picks.' There I found from Barbara Gowdy, one of my favourite authors, the three year old, but new to me:

Barbara Gowdy.
Helpless. Toronto: Harper Collins Canada, 2007.
ISBN13: 9780002008464.

A quick look at the very mixed reviews in GoodReads would indicate that Gowdy has again written something ... edging into uncomfortable waters. We'll see how I like it.