Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Books for the Thesis

The end is in sight, but if anything that means I need even more books. I've had it with going to the library by now - I am at home writing up, and when I need a book I want it right next to me with a cup of coffee and my favourite harp concerto.
So here's what I decided I couldn't live without, and what I will be reading over the next couple of weeks:

The Heart of William James ed. by Robert Richardson - My obsession with William James continues apace.

Inevitable Grace by Piero Ferrucci - Ferrucci was a student of Assagioli, a radical Italian psychotherapist who was a major influence on the work of Australian author Stephanie Dowrick.

Derrida for Beginners by Jeff Collins and Bill Mayblin - Here I am almost at the end and I still don't really have my head around theory or philosophy. I keep bumbling ahead, however, doing my level best. And still I'm at this level.

George Herbert Mead: A Unifying Theory for Sociology by John D. Baldwin - Just looking at this book terrifes me.

How to Know God by Deepak Chopra - Much more familiar terrain here.

Reason in the Age of Science by Hans-Georg Gadamer - What the hell was I thinking? I remember - Stephanie Dowrick references Gadamer in her book on Rilke, and he seemed fascinating. Now he just seems terrifying.

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore - No idea.

Self-Help Inc. by Micki McGee - I have actually read this book several times over, but always from the library. I figured it was time to get my own copy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peace in the Present Moment

Peace in the Present Moment is a beautiful little hard-covered gift book, and it is a meditation experience all on its own. The words of famous New Age writers Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie are matched with the most incredible flower photographs of Michele Penn - photos that are described as "soul shots" of flowers.
It's a beautiful introduction to the world-changing work of these two authors, offering the reader nice digestible chunks of their wisdom which will almost certainly cause you to investigate their writings further. The quotes in the book are all from Eckhart Tolle's Oprah-changing international bestseller A New Earth and Byron Katie's less well-known A Thousand Names for Joy (a book I happen to like very much).
The book begins with a lovely, lyrical introduction from Stephen Mitchell, acclaimed translator and Katie's husband. In it he talks about the flower as symbol of enlightenment, and provides the loveliest quote from Iris Murdoch:

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have the things about us."

Isn't that beautiful? I am already something of a stopper-and-admirer of flowers, but that has encouraged me to cherish flowers even more for the wonderful little miracles that they are.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

"There is a perfection beyond what the unquestioned mind can know. You can count on it to take you wherever you need to be..." Byron katie

"When you hate what you are doing, complain about your surroundings, curse things that are happening or have happened, or when your internal dialogue consists of shoulds and shouldn'ts, of blaming and accusing, then you are arguing with what is, arguing with that which is already the case. You are making life into an enemy and life says, "War is what you want, and war is what you get."" Eckhart Tolle

This book would make a lovely gift to a more spiritually inclined person.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walter Mason to talk on Angkor Wat

I hope you'll indulge me in a cross-post to let you know that I am giving a talk on Monday the 24th of October, 2011, in Sydney. Details:

Angkor Wat: The Beauty and Spiritual Significance of Cambodia's Great Forgotten City

At the Southern Cross Academy of Light
Monday, 24th October 2011
St John’s Uniting Church Hall, cnr of Yeo Street and Barry Street, Neutral Bay. Enter off Barry Street. Session starts 7:30pm. Entry Fee: $15, concession $10.

Forgotten for centuries in the jungles of Cambodia, Angkor Wat was once the world's greatest and most sophisticated city. Re-discovered by French explorers in the nineteenth century, this massive stone structure was both a political and a religious centre, built to illustrate the creation myths of Hinduism, and later accommodating many of the schools of Buddhism. In this fascinating talk Walter will take us through the stories, history and meanings of the great temple of Angkor Wat.

Walter Mason is a travel writer whose book on Vietnam, Destination Saigon, was named by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of the 10 best travel books of 2010.
Walter is currently at work on his next book, a spiritual journey through Cambodia. He is also in the final stages of writing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Western Sydney's Writing & Society Research Group, where he is writing a history of self-help literature in Australia."

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Importance of Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures

Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, which Mark Twain famously described as “chloroform in print,” is one of the most tremendously influential texts in the histroy of self-help literature. These days, with Christian Science fading from public consciousness, it is easy to forget the tremendous influence this philosophy had on the popular cultural imagination, and just how many of the ideas contained in the book were absorbed into the understanding of alternative health, spirituality and self-help. Its author, and the eventual founder of the Christian Science Church, was Mary Baker Eddy, an impoverished New Englander with a patchy matrimonial history and a lifelong history of largely psychosomatic illness.

I think we have hugely underestimated the cultural power that Eddy’s movement maintained over Western culture up to the 1960s, including here in Australia. Writers, celebrities and Hollywood stars were all drawn to this religion that validated women and denied the dogmas of the traditional churches. This was the case, too, in Australia, where Christian Science churches and reading rooms popped up in every capital city. In Science and Health... Eddy sets forth her theological understanding that all that is good is of God, and all that is bad is illusion, for God is the only reality:

"all real being is in God, the Divine Mind, and that Life, Truth, and Love are all-powerful and ever-present."

This huge, prolix and immensely difficult book became almost an instant bestseller, establishing the market for spiritually-inspired books of self-help healing that continues till this day. The success of the book and of the religious movement it inspired meant that by the end of the nineteenth century Mary Baker Eddy was ver rich, powerful and influential.

The crest on the front of the book reads:

"Heal the Sick, Raise the Dead, Cast Out Demons, Cleanse the Lepers."

These, of course, being the miracles of Christ, which Mary Baker Eddy believed all of her followers should be able to emulate. To this end she forbade the use of conventional medicine, though she herself famously visited the dentist towards the end of her life.

Eddy’s empire was, however, not without its critics. In Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, Leigh Eric Schmidt makes the old point that Eddy's book was largely influenced by the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a travelling New England healer who was immensely popular in the middle of the nineteenth century and who was responsible for many of Eddy's own cures. Eddy later rejected this notion, claiming that all of the ideas in the book were her own, divinely inspired. She said that the book was "hoplessly original," perhaps hinting that even she was aware of some of it stylistic shortcomings. And in denying sin, suffering and evil, the book was, of course, entirely heretical and opposed to any mainstream theology. In rejecting the notion of original sin, Horton Davies, in his book Christian Deviations, wrote that:

"Christian Scientists are tone-deaf to the tragic notes of our human symphony. Life's foes demand to be faced with bracing realism, not evaded by Christian Science escapism."

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14: Reading Notes

This week I've been working on my chapter on the literature of sales, management and prosperity, and if I say so myself it is shaping up to be an interesting section. I have decided to explore 5 main themes in the chapter (this is usually the way I do it, though one or other of the themes normally fades away from lack of interest): Playing the Game of Life; Being Valued; The Book as Agent of Improvement; Controlling Our Reality; and The Moment of Success.

The main author I am using in this chapter is Paul Hanna. He is an absolutely intriguing figure, and I once attended a conference where he spoke, so I feel I have more of a handle on his whole technique. I will be drawing principally from his books You Can Do It, Don't Give Up and The Sales Motivator.

Another author I am using is the flamboyant advertising man Siimon Reynolds, especially his books Become Happy in Eight Minutes and Why People Fail.

The last person I am examining at any length is Sydney real-estate tycoon John McGrath and his book You Inc. Again, I have seen him in action at a conference, and his style is nothing like Paul Hanna's - he is quiet and shy and does a whole understated act.

I suppose that people imagine such books would be terrible, but in fact they are very effectively written, filled with quotes and case-studies and lots and lots of motivating exhortation. All of the above writers are actually quite good at what they do, and I would suggest deserve more respect than they will probably ever get from the literary establishment.

The central book I am comparing them all to, and the book they themselves cite frequently, is Napoleon Hill's classic Think and Grow Rich.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Orison Swett Marden Wanted Us to Create Miracles

Orison Swett Marden is a name almost completely unknown now, but in the early part of the 20th century and well into the 1930s he was a bestselling writer in the mental science/New Thought field. He was quoted extensively in other self-help books, and was really one of the greatest of the early self-help gurus. For some reason, however, his books simply haven't stood the test of time, and he has none of the continued fame of the writers he had influenced, such as Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie. This is sad, because Marden is quite a good writer and a clear communicator, and his books would be quite suitable to modern audiences.
Possessed of the most wonderful name that must, all on its own, have been something of an inspiration (an "Orison" being a special kind of prayer of supplication), Marden preached success from a position of knowledge - he had been both a successful doctor and later a wealthy hotelier. Marden had been inspired by the work and example of Samuel Smiles, another medical man, and the inventor of the term "self-help." Marden established Success magazine to chronicle positive stories about success, and it is still in publication today, having been revived by W. Clement Stone.
At present I am writing a chapter on the literature of sales and prosperity in Australia. I am using Marden's book The Miracle of Right Thought as my historical counterpoint, and thought I'd share some of its wisdom, and give you a taste of Orison Swett Marden's worldview.

1. If you constantly think about the bad aspects of your life, you will continue to experience misfortune Marden says, "Prosperity begins in the mind, and is impossible with a mental attitude which is hostile to it." This is one of the central tenets of New Thought, of course, and one which some modern readers find makes them uncomfortable.

2. If we open our mind to good and beautiful things, we will experience them As Marden says, "Our circumstances in life..are all very largely the offspring of our thought."

3. The Infinite Source (God) is exactly like a loving parent We mostly limit ourselves by harbouring a fearful idea of God, and "do not expect half enough of ourselves; we do not demand half enough..." If we only asked for it, God would give us everything we desired, and more.

4. Pessimism is a dangerous and life-destroying mental quality Quite a gloomy outlook for those who spread gloomy thoughts, I'm afraid. Marden says: "A fatal penalty awaits those who always look on the dark side of everything, who are always predicting evil and failure, who see only the seemy, disagreeable side of life."

5. Those who keep their goals in sight will be victorious What is required is resilience and persistence, and a belief in the ultimate certainty of our best and greatest hopes and desires. Those who create a vision of the future actually do end up creating their futures, for "A man was not intended to be a puppet of circumstances, a slave to his environment, he was intended to make his environment, to create his condition."