August Book Reviews

Reviews by Len Oppenheim

If you read these newsletters regularly it must be pretty obvious to you that I am an avid reader and am lucky enough to have the time to read many books. Over the last few months I have reviewed a number of books that I read and enjoyed. These were good books, and books well worth reading, but none of them were so good that I could get overly enthusiastic about them. This month I have three books to recommend, two of which I am totally enthusiastic about and highly encourage everyone to read.

We moved to Fairfield almost 7 years ago. We live out in the country and really only have one neighbor—if you define “neighbor” as someone living in a house you can see. During that period our neighbor, Mark, recommended one book to me—The Holographic Universe, by Michael Talbot. I read it, loved it, and would rate it as one of the top 10 books I have read. Naturally I would urge those of you who have never read it to check out our review and to read the book ASAP.

A few weeks ago Mark made a second recommendation to me, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I enjoyed this book more than anything I have read in a long long time. It was an experience that was uncommon in its ability to excite me, move me, and uplift me.

Greg Mortenson is a very unique man. He was a nurse and a mountaineer. After a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2 in the Himalayas, he became separated from his group and near the termination of his descent took a wrong turn and ended up in an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram Mountains. There he was nursed back to health and developed strong ties to the people of this village. He promised to return and build a school.

This is the amazing story of how he kept his word and more. This book ranks right at the top of the list of the most inspiring and enlightening books I have ever read. Mortenson, living in his car, and saving every penny was dogged in his determination to accomplish his goal. His life is a lesson in humility, adventure, and the power of the human will or spirit.

Beyond the story of his accomplishments the book illuminates the relatively unknown Muslim culture of remote villages in Pakistan and even Afghanistan. In the age in which we live, I believe it is imperative that we, as individuals, understand the richness and warmth of the Muslim culture. Unhappily many of us have had our understanding of Muslims tainted by the behavior of certain religious fanatics like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the regime in Iran. Personally I have been fortunate enough to have made close friends with some very devout Muslims who epitomize all that is good and kind in human nature. I hope readers of this book will come to a greater understanding of this warm, wonderful, and loving culture. It is important we realize that the vast majority of Muslims are friendly, loyal, humane, and virtuous.

The book is well written, engrossing, and very inspiring. I truly hope everyone will read, enjoy, and absorb this book. It is truly an exceptional account of an exceptional man and what a single person can do to make a huge difference on our not so small planet.

The second very special and dear to me book I read this month was recommended in our last newsletter by Tony, who remains my number one source for great reading ideas. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, is another book I liked so much that I want everyone I know to read it.

I think that consciousness is the most important and most fascinating subject in the universe. It is a subject that has been debated, studied, and discussed for centuries by philosophers, scientists, neuroanatomists, and religious figures. Despite all the brilliant dissertations written on consciousness and all the angles of attack, it remains a term or word that is almost impossible to define. In fact, consciousness has a lot in common with pornography, as the latter was described by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart—just substitute “consciousness” for “pornography”, and see what I mean. Stewart said: “I can’t tell you what pornography is, but I know it when I see it.”

I would hope that many who read this review saw the famous YouTube video in which Ms. Taylor describes her experience of having a stroke and how it changed her perception of consciousness and reality. I found that video exceptionally moving and enlightening. The book is more of the same, only deeper and better!

The author was 37 years old when she experienced a massive stroke as a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain. She observed her mind dissolve and her frame of reference or reality become totally re-shaped. The book recounts her experiences during the time of the stroke, her hospitalization, and her long recovery. More important and by far more interesting are her unique observations about how different the world is when the rational, linear, left-hemisphere of the brain is shut down and the intuitive, holistic, and non-linear right-hemisphere takes over.

Because she was trained as a brain scientist, a neuroanatomist, Taylor’s insights carry a lot of weight in observing and understanding how brain functioning fits in to experiences of what she would call “nirvana”.

For those of us who are interested in the nature of shared reality and how reality can be shaped by the functioning of our brain this is a must read. Although there is sufficient neruoanatomical descriptions of how the cerebral cortex makes us uniquely human and how it affects our vision of reality, it is kept simple and fascinating and requires no in depth knowledge of neuroanatomy.

The essence or spirit of this unique account is best captured by the author’s own words. “I remember that first day of the stroke with terrific bitter-sweetness. In the absence of the normal functioning of my left orientation area, my perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air. I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle. … this absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss. As my consciousness dwelled in a flow of sweet tranquility, it was obvious to me that I would never be able to squeeze the enormousness of my spirit back inside this tiny cellular matrix.”

Whether you are religious or agnostic, whether or not you believe in higher states of consciousness or not, whether or not you are a materialist or a spiritualist I believe this book offers a tremendous view into the nature of consciousness and how we perceive and deal with reality.

This book is rich in experience, wisdom, and teaching. It is fascinating to read, well-written and I can’t imagine anyone who would not enjoy and profit from reading it. Needless to say I give it my highest recommendation.

Most of us probably know a friend, acquaintance, or family member who suffers from the mental disease now called “bi-polar disorder”. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison is an often painfully honest chronicle of a life lived with this disease. According to Oliver Sacks (author of one of my favorite books, recommended here by me last month—The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) “This Book stands alone in the literature of manic-depression for its bravery, brilliance, and beauty.” [Ms Jamison prefers to describe herself as being “manic-depressive” rather than “bi-polar”, as she believes the former, not the latter term is more descriptive of the actual disease from which she suffers.]

Dr. Jamison is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is considered one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive illness and is the coauthor of the standard medical text.

Kay Jamison’s book is a classic memoir. One is impressed with her honesty and openness. Oliver Sacks was correct in calling attention to her bravery in writing this book. It is an intimate and powerful book. One gains great insights into the euphoria and depression. For the first time I personally began to understand why patients are not compliant in taking their lithium.

I consider this another “must- read” for all of us, because it is important to understand this powerful mental disease and how it controls the lives of those who suffer from it. Because the author is both a scientist and a sufferer she brings unique perspective and insights that I would think would be almost impossible to find elsewhere.

This is another one of those rare books that grips the reader and makes him or her a better and more understanding person for having read it.

Reviews by Tony Kainauskus

Eckart Tolle has become a household word. His online class with Oprah was one of the most attended events in the history of the internet.

This does bode well for our world… that something that does not contain darkness or would be singers trying to make it big would have such a large following.

If you enjoyed Eckart’s books and wish to expand your reading into material such as his, I recommend The Untethered Soul: The Journey beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer.Written with much humor and profound simplicity (you will be constantly underlining passages to go back to). Michael takes you on a point by point explanation of the mind, what thinking really is (a way to control your environment) and the process of releasing yourself from thoughts—which have nothing to do with you and experiencing your true self. The book shows how the mind traps you into a filtered view of reality that is biased and limited. He points out that the mind has the undesired effect of limiting us and our consciousness. As long as we are insecure and feel we need protection from the outside, we will give over much of our power to our mind and become its servant. When we breakthrough our limited perceptions and come to really know we are always protected in spite of what the mind thinks, then thoughts lose their power and become our servants.

There seems to be a major shift in the last few years, as more and more people perceive the box we have put ourselves in for thousands of years. My feeling is that the time for ripening of consciousness is upon us and for that we can to some degree thank the extreme negativity of the world, which has helped caused a polar shift to supreme awareness to balance and heal this planet of ours. Tolle’s books and Michael Singer’s are symptoms of this phenomenon.

Untethered Soul is a very practical book and I highly recommend it, I believe it can help you see yourself and the world around you in new and healthy terms.

Maximum Security by Alan Gompers After living 40 years in emotional self made prisons of greed, manipulation and insatiable hunger for respect and self worth, the author finds himself in a physical maximum security prison. Having sold an ounce of cocaine to an undercover police officer, he is sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was the only one allowed under harsh New York state laws at that time.

The extreme negativity and deplorable conditions of his surroundings completely shatters the author’s ego, creating a switch in his psychological wiring. Under the mentorship of a former Catholic monk, now a disciple of Swami Muktananda, Alan finds a rich freedom behind the walls of his physical surroundings His meditations lead him to places within himself that he forgot existed, bringing Alan to a state of divine gratitude. A gratitude for all the choices he made that led him to this prison that lead him to his monastic cell and ultimately led him to God.

His life story is fascinating. Alan grew up in a middle class Jewish neighborhood in New York City. His first career was teaching PE to inner city students. Later through various turns in his life he becomes a highly successful stock broker. This all comes crashing down as he is investigated for fraud and money laundering. To keep up his lavish lifestyle he turns to selling drugs and this act eventually leads to his ultimate and final freedom.

Alan’s book is written with honesty and deep spiritual insight. Many of us will resonate and feel a communion with his spiritual journey, having gone through similar experiences though under vastly different circumstances. If you were to read only one spiritual memoir this year, this is the one.

Former Purusha (celibate male follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) Robert Cox (author of Pillar of Celestial Fire) latest book has recently been published: Creating the Soul Body: The Sacred Science of Immortality.

“Robert Cox maps the spiritual journey of consciousness and reveals the process of creating an immortal soul body. He also shows that this ancient spiritual knowledge( from Vedic, Egyptian and Hebraic traditions) resembles advanced theories of modern science , such as wave and particle theory and the unified field theory, and reveals that modern science is only now awakening to this ancient science of immortality.”

Robert goes on to explain how ancient civilizations were much more intelligent than our own. How the ancients science of consciousness surpasses even the most advanced physical theories of today.

Now newly reissued: Sweet Taste of Utopia First time on CD format

Recorded during the historic “Taste of Utopia” assembly in the winter of 1983-84, here in Fairfield. Originally issued only on cassette, Paul Fauerso has recently re-mastered and reissued the album on CD to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the course; the last time Maharishi was in the US.

Our infatuations, our love of things, even our happiness betray us. They are masks that cover the ultimate human condition of loneliness… without awakening a lonely sadness is the inevitable condition of most lives. We use make up and conceal our blemishes, but until we awake to the oneness of all, baptized in our communal silence we are pretenders… trying to make sense out of the senseless.

But then again it may be healthier not to pay attention to me… I just maybe suffering from an advanced brain chemical imbalance.