Monday Blogcrawl

A second week of being ill has kept me pretty much housebound, and it's amazing how much you treasure the idea of health when you don't have it! Still, I have got lots of reading done, so I can't complain. Here are some blogs that have caught my eye:

Townsville Bulletin Feature, 28 August 2010

Townsville Bulletin Weekend extra feature on Walter Mason and his book, Destination Saigon, today.

Shining Bright: Ascending the High Tower, by Walter Mason (Volume 13, Issue 2, 2010)

Ascending the High Tower, by Walter Mason
Shining Bright, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2010
Printed by the Southern Cross Academy of Light

Eremos Magazine: Our Lady of La Vang by Walter Mason (May 2010)

Our Lady of La Vang, by Walter Mason
Eremos Magazine, May 2010
Eremos Magazine is printed by the Eremos Institute

The Law of Attraction

Probably one of the most vilified tenets of self-help philosophy is the concept of The Law of Attraction. This "Law" has achieved a significant amount of cultural currency in recent years due to The Secret - basically, the Law of Attraction WAS The Secret (sorry if that's a bit of a plot spoiler!), and many millions of people encountered the idea for the first time there.
But it is a mistake to think it is a recent invention. Rhonda Byrne herself freely admits that she came across the idea of LOA while reading the works of Wallace Wattles, books published around the turn of the 20th century. The idea in its recognisable form can probably be dated back to Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and the Unity School of Christianity in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.
What is the Law of Attraction? Simply put, it is the idea that whatever you think about, you attract. As the Buddha used to say in the opening credits of Monkey, "With our thoughts, we create the world."
This idea goes well beyond the pioneers of New Thought, of course. This kind of "mind only" philosophy has a long history in Buddhism and, before that, Advaita Vedanta schools of Hinduism. I think the real difference between these Eastern and Western forms is where the emphasis lies. For the most part, this realisation in Hinduism and Buddhism is meant to lead the seeker to try and transcend this world, realising that ultimately nothing is real, and all is meaningless, a creation of our desire. Law of Attraction as it has manifested in popular American thought has been directed in a thoroughly more worldly manner: since we're creating our world, how about we create a really nice one.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Indeed, many of the spiritual practices of Mahayana Buddhism involve just this process, visualising the jewelled Buddha lands and the extraordinary treasures of various divine realms. The Law of Attraction enthusiasts are, if anything, a shade more honest than most of their consumerist counterparts, by recognising that they want nice things in their world, and seeking to create these things at a metaphysical level. Whether or not you believe this is possible is a whole other question, and one with which I do not engage.
What I do find interesting is the vehemence with which such beliefs are denounced by those who don't share them. As religious beliefs go, I consider the Law of Attraction a pretty benign one. It certainly beats a whole lot of other religious and secular worldviews, including those of most who pour such scorn on the LOA scene.
At its simplest I really just see LOA as a Western re-casting of the same ideas of karma and rebirth that are subscribed to by pretty much most of the Hindu and Buddhist world. As such, it attracts many of the same criticisms and is subject to all the same shaky logical and philosophical premises. It's just that, being an idea seen (incorrectly) as the product of modern consumer culture, it is subjected to the kind of paternalistic scorn that people would never dare direct toward a Hindu or a Buddhist.
The fact that it is always mentioned as a "Law" is also significant. The new religious movements that emerged in America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were all, to some extent, responding to modernity. One of the ways they did that was by casting their new ideas not as religious revelations, but as much more scientific-sounding "Laws", "Principles" and "Sciences."
Apart from The Secret, the great proponents these days of the Law of Attraction are a cuddly pair of middle-American trance channelers called Esther and Jerry Hicks. Esther channels the voice of a disembodied entity called "Abraham" and this material sells wildly throughout the world, making the Law of Attraction more and more one of the strongest contemporary popular religious beliefs. Those from a more orthodox religious background may pooh-pooh it, but its longevity, resonance and, apparently, relevance cannot be denied.

New Books for August

This month I happened to read about bibliomania, and I'm afraid I self diagnosed with it instantly. A couple of weeks ago I was in Melbourne having dinner with a dear old friend, and she mentioned how envious she was each month to see my pile of new acquisitions - that made me feel a little better about it all. So, here is this month's cache...

  • I felt the need for some more books about writing (the shelf in my library dedicated to such books is just about full), so I bought William Zinsser's Writing Places, Barzun's Simple & Direct and Terry Brooks' (though I've never read one of his novels) Sometimes the Magic Works
  • My darling little niece is called Ivy, so as some kind of bizarre act of literary tribute I am going to read all the books of Ivy Compton-Burnett. I also discovered this month that she is one of John Waters' favourite authors, so I feel I'm in good company. I'm getting started with Parents and Children and A God and His Gifts
  • Barry Humphries is a stylish and clever author in an old-fashioned mould, and makes me very proud to be an Australian. I have never read his novel Women in the Background, but now I have a lovely first edition I will get started
  • The Last Lecture seems to come up constantly on bestsellers lists for self-help and inspiration, so I thought I'd better read it
  • The Table-Rappers is a history of Spiritualism, and looks like it's going to be a hoot
  • Hildegard of Bingen's Selected Writings, 'cos she was a wild lady, and a fellow migraine-sufferer
  • How to Live Dangerously is a kind of manifesto about not being so nannied and molly-coddled
  • This month I had to write an article about the Medicine Buddha, and I became very interested in mudras, hence this book
  • Sopmeone sent me a list of The Best Self-Help Books ever, and I am trying to work my way through those titles I haven't yet read. This is one of them
  • I was at a conference where Peter Kennedy spoke, and I was blown away by his gentleness, his great humility and his kindness. We spoke at length, and I got a signed copy of his book
  • And finally, I am a Mitford Sisters addict, and was surprised that I didn't have this book in my collection. Now I do

Teaser Tuesdays

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

  • "The Universe holds nothing against us. No matter how many mistakes we have made, we are still perfect beings within, and the within may become the without, if we will carefully train ourselves to listen to the inner voice of truth which speaks to us in our moments of quiet and solitude."
    ~p. 470, Ernest Holmes' The Science of Mind

    Mary Baker Eddy

    Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston (commonly known as the Christian Science Church) and the author of the spiritual classic Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
    A couple of years ago I was keeping another blog, and when I wrote what I thought was a perfectly innocent post on Mary Baker Eddy and her book I was subjected to a campaign of abuse, trolling and spamming from people who had taken offense at my perfectly innocuous musings. It got to the stage where I actually took the post down, censoring myself to spare further upset and bother. So I'm really taking a risk with this entry.
    Christian Scientists have traditionally been vehement defenders of the foundress of their faith, and even in the early days of the 20th Century would steal or deface copies of books critical of Eddy from public libraries. Such dogmatism has no place in 21st century discourse, and I would hope that Christian Scientists have moved into a slighly more mellow stage of their apologetics.
    That all said, I find Mary Baker Eddy a fascinating and inspiring figure, and I think her influence on Western culture - particularly literature, medicine and religion - has been enormous, and enormously understated. Poor and sickly for most of her life, Eddy was cured of several serious ailments after meeting the spiritual healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, and it is assumed that she gained the principle ideas of her philosophy from Quimby's own peculiar ideas and practice. It is worth noting that the Christian Science establishment utterly rejects this idea, claiming that Eddy's ideas were totally her own, and divinely inspired.
    Previously my interest in Christian Science was literary: I did my honours thesis on Sumner Locke Elliott, who was a life-long Christian Scientist. Edmund White, one of my favourite novelists, was also brought up by a Christian Science mother, and I think that there is room for an academic paper on Queer Christian Scientist writers - it would be fascinating. I need to add that another of my most beloved icons, Doris Day, is also a Christian Scientist.
    Mary Baker Eddy's shadow looms large over modern-day self-help literature, and many of the ideas one encounters in bestselling books of advice can trace their pedigree back to Eddy and her theology. She was a most extraordinary woman, possessed of an immense charisma and self-confidence. She also had a gift for organisation and for business, in her lifetime establishing a religion that was to become one of the wealthiest and most influential of its time, exporting peculiarly American ideas of God, health and being to the whole world.
    That said, I will say again that her magnum opus Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is a difficult work - and this is exactly the kind of criticism that enthusiasts take offense at. I find it impossible to believe that even her most rabid defenders can claim the book as an easy read. It is dense and prolix, and more often than not a page requires re-reading several times before any clear meaning can emerge. This is not to say that the book is useless or in any way bad - it is clearly one of the most important and influential texts of the nineteenth century, and remains a bestseller to this day. But it is equally clear that, even for her time, Eddy was not an eloquent writer. It is understandable that Christian Scientists should bristle at the criticism of a book they consider second only to the Bible in importance. And certainly, generations of writers have made a lot of cheap jokes at the expense of Mrs. Eddy and her extraordinary text.
    What she was was a teacher, a preacher and a brilliant organiser. She was also a proto-feminist, and much recent scholarship has concentrated on this aspect of her life. Many see her as the first great female leader, the head of an enormous church and business empire, and one of the richest women of her time.
    There was an element, too, of the dictatorial in her personality. She ruled her church with an iron fist, and brooked no opposition or usurpation. She banished the briulliant author and scholar Emma Curtis Hopkins from her church when she became too independent in her thinking. This was probably, in retrospect, an unwise move, because the truly exceptional Hopkins went on to become "The Mother of New Thought," and trained a generation of writers, thinkers and religious leaders in what was basically Christian Science freed from the bounds of Mary Baker Eddy's unfortunate dogmatism.
    Eddy's life was a fascinating mix of tragedy and success. She had quite a run of bad luck with husbands, though the final one, Mr. Eddy, seems to have been a gentle enough soul. She had a problematic relationship with her only son, from whom she was estranged most of her life.
    But despite her faults, Eddy seemed genuinely to believe in the tenets she espoused: that only the good is true, and that we can all be healed through faith in God.

    Teaser Tuesdays

    TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!
  • Teaser Tuesday sentences:

    However, since we live in a negative society, we will always have the problem of fresh garbage being dumped into our minds on a daily basis. A friend, an acquaintance, or an overheard conversation can drop a couple of fast loads of garbage into our minds. p. 32, "See You at the Top" by Zig Ziglar

    Monday Blogcrawl

    As usual, I have a rather daunting to-do list, which I manage by totally ignoring. This method has worked for the past 39 years, but I don't think it's going to cut it when I hit 40 (in two months time, folks!). A friend sent me a wonderful CD by Aboriginal country singer Warren H. Williams, and that has been keeping me excellent company this week - I'll be reviewing it soon. IN the meantime, here's what distracted me on the World Wide Web:

    1. Author Jody Hedlund, whose blog is consistently wonderful, weighs in on the necessity (or not) of authors blogging
    2. Brave New World offers some excellent advice on dealing with trolls
    3. Some people tell me they can't see the value in social media. Andrew Ran Wong offers some excellent reasons why you should be involved
    4. Beth Fish reviews Angelology, a book on my "must-read" list
    5. Is Buddhism a religion? The endless question...

    Walter votes for his favourite pho restaurant

    James Alison - The Challenge of an Open Horizon - Thursday 23rd September 7.30pm

    EREMOS Presents:

    An evening with James Alison

    The Challenge of an Open Horizon: The Gospel shape of Gay & Lesbian Freedom

    James Alison will explore with us his sense of the vacuum that can be seen in the life of the Church, as the hate-filled ecclesiastical and biblical discourse with which Gay and Lesbians used to be characterised ebbs away. How are we to undergo being turned into Church by the
    One who’s Gospel has set us free?

    James Alison is a gay priest, theologian and the author of a string of books that have been
    widely received as offering an important representation of Christianity in the current age. Born in England he now lives in Sao Paulo Brazil and travels widely lecturing, giving retreats and speaking on issues of justice and theology.

    Costs $15
    Concession and Eremos members $10
    Paddington Uniting Church, Cnr Oxford and Newcombe Sts, Paddington
    Thursday 23rd September 7.30pm

    Tips for the First Time Author #2 - Thank People

    Corny huh?
    But the fact is that creative types can often become so absorbed in their work that they forget the people who helped them in all kinds of ways. In fact, artists and writers are, in the popular mind at least, among the most selfish and needy people imaginable. Prove the stereotypes wrong by being generous, gracious and grateful. These are more than just personal virtues - they also help speed the creative process, and help you to realise your creative goals (including that of being published).
    I had the great good fortune to become an author after years of working in the book industry, where I saw first-hand what monsters authors can be (see my earlier post about things authors do to piss off booksellers). There's just no excuse for this - invariably the biggest egos and most unrealistic demands emerge from the smallest talents. It is also, in the end, incredibly counter-productive. Your publisher has a lot of authors to deal with, so does your publicist and sales team. Booksellers have thousands of other books they can recommend to people, or put in their front windows. Why would they go the extra mile for someone who they know only as an ungrateful whiner?
    In a terrific little book called Guerilla Networking, authors Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann devote a whole chapter to the persuasive power of gratitude. As they say, "in this day and age, even just sending a quick ten-second text message would be more appreciation than most people receive in an entire year." Sadly, that's all too true. We live in a society where we are encouraged to complain, to find fault and to insist on our rights. We seem to have forgotten how to thank the people who have helped us and recognised our uniqueness.
    I really believe that authors have an especial need for support and help. We tend to be sensitive, and we tend to soak up information around us, always looking for leads, always looking for information. When was the last time you thanked someone for recommending a movie, a book, a website that proved invaluable to your project?
    And as authors, we have the wonderful privilege of an acknowledgements section at the beginning of our books, in which we can thank publicly and for all time those who have worked hard for our success. This is an incredible gift - use it wisely and generously.
    Who do we have to thank? Partners, family, friends, people who have encouraged our dreams, teachers and spiritual guides. On the professional front we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our publishers, editors, booksellers, publicists, sales and marketing people, reviewers and journalists, designers, readers, librarians, fellow authors... Seek out every opportunity to thank these people in public and in private - you'd be amazed how few bother.
    And how do we thank them?
    1. I am a huge fan of the letter and card, but sms messages, emails and phone calls will do just as well. Drop by with small gifts (don't expect to see busy people in person - leave the gift with reception and they will receive the most wonderful surprise when they emerge from a dull meeting) - a bookselling friend of mine was recently over the moon because a customer who had won a prize in her store dropped by with a jar of home-made jam as thanks, something which had never happened before. How simple it is to make someone happy by acknowledging their kindness and generosity.
    2. When you do events, talks and readings, mention people by name - people are always thrilled by this. Of course, you need to do this briefly and sparingly, as you have to consider the rest of your audience.
    3. In this age of social media, it is easy to thank people by helping them to spread their message. Promote the books of author friends. Promote the events of bookstores that have supported you. Be active in their Facebook groups, tweet and re-tweet them, post pics on your blog. And how about some publisher loyalty? Take an active interest in the list of your publishing house and promote other books and authors who are part of your stable.
    4. Go to their events. It is only since I have become an author myself that I have realised how important events are to those organising them and appearing at them. Believe me, your presence is noted and remembered forever after. It is worth making the effort.
    Oh, and after all this thanking and acknowledging, a final piece of advice: don't ever expect anything back. I know people who do a single good deed for someone and then fume and fret until it is returned. That way lies heartache and besides shows a distinct lack of generosity. Be fulsome and carefree in your gratitude, and know that even if it is not acknowledged (and some people feel very shy about doing that kind of thing) it is noticed and appreciated at the most profound level.
    I'll leave the final word to the legendary Dale Carnegie: Always be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise!

    Monday Blogcrawl

    I've actually been working really hard this past week, and I feel damned proud of myself, too. I am a little anxious because I have to write my first book review for an academic journal, and I am a little anxious. I am normally such a gossipy old thing, you see, so I will have to put my solemn hat on and concentrate on the facts. Here are some things that have had me distracted this week:

    1. Buddhist Geeks (a beautifully designed site, btw) has a nice entry on Siddham and the traditions of Buddhist calligraphy - something I've always been very interested in, and which I touch on briefly in Destination Saigon.
    2. Spice Temple is a glamorous restaurant in Sydney and WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT IT? It looks fabulous, and Chocolate Suze has made me put it on my list.
    3. I'm reading a really fascinating book by Jonathan Black at the moment, and I was delighted to stumble upon this retro news item from 1969 by him, detailing a gay march in NYC. Oh, how the world has changed (or has it?).
    4. Benedictine news has been crazy this week, what with Lady Gaga signing up the nuns. I'm fascinated with Benedictine history, and have found a new monastery (well, new to me) that I wanna visit.
    5. Did you say you wanted to read more about obscure Quakers? Say no more.
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