Thursday, June 13, 2013

Francis Spufford's UNAPOLOGETIC revives Christianity's deepest meaning

 Dr Stephanie Dowrick, author of Seeking the Sacred and Heaven on Earth, reviews British writer Francis Spufford's Unapologetic, and unapologetically sings its praises.

Francis Spufford, author of Unapologetic
Frankly, I haven't enjoyed a book about Christianity - or, more accurately, about being Christian - so much since… Well, I am not quite sure when because Francis Spufford's Unaplogetic is in fact quite unlike any other book I've read on the experience of being Christian (despite the warnings). Popular writers like Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies) have in recent decades used humour and self-deprecation well to describe their faith frolics, as well as the serious bits. With somewhat less humour, so have writers like Sara Miles (Jesus Freak), Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God; Still) and the more serious Marcus Borg. Then there are the major Christian writers like C.S. Lewis or Thomas Merton, or like former bishop, now agnostically-inclined Richard Holloway whose exceptional memoir I reviewed here some months ago. But Spufford is very much a writer for our times: intellectually well-trained and adroit, sharp as well as tender, and perfectly clear that he is writing for, and often in the voice of, the very people most eager to be appalled by religion in any of its forms.

Unapologetic is decidedly not an "apologetic" - a systematic defence of God - but a totally unapologetic book for those who've not entirely closed their minds to the possibility that Christian beliefs and experience could still have something of value to offer in 21st-century life, even to the passably intelligent. These readers may be curious enough to wonder who Jesus was and is; how Christianity (despite its countless failings) can still enrich lives; and - maybe - whether there is some version of Christian life and practice that could authentically support them.

Understanding all that and more, Spufford has chosen a very direct way to reach readers. His writing voice is deceptively casual. He's highly conversational and his book, perhaps like his company, is laced with a fair number of familiar profanities. The book feels very London, and I liked that. I liked him, too, from the get-go.  With humour rather than contempt, he starts by parodying the new atheists (who are new only in the degree and promotion of their self-righteousness), enumerating all the reasons why people couldn't possibly hold onto any remnants of Christian belief unless they are "too stupid to understand the irrationality of our creeds [or, among many other reasons] think it's perfectly normal for middle-aged men to wear purple dresses." He leaves the best for last. Christians are "embarrassing", "inexplicable", "touting a solution without a problem", eager to "keep out the plain sound of the real world".

But if this sounds defensive or even offensive, then I have done Spufford a disservice because he absolutely takes it for granted, as do I, that religion is not and never will be meaningful to all. You need an appetite for it. You may even need a talent for it, much as you do to sing a high C reliably. It needs to suit or even fit some place far more inner than the inner ear.

For Spufford, though, and again for me, "Humanity glimmers with God's presence." Also for him, though this time not for me, the Church of England supports well enough his need for, longing for, that divine glimmering.  (Spufford's CofE is, unsurprisingly, very different from that found in great swathes of Australian life.)  In fact, for Spufford, "The church is not just another institution. It's a failing but never quite failed attempt, by limited people, to perpetuate the unlimited generosity of God in the world."

The Christian church - in its many guises, Eastern and Western - does this, he shows, in a very particular way. Without making any one-true-church claims, he shows that this is self-evidently because the Christian church celebrates (despite all its well-rehearsed idiocies, cruelties and tyrannies) the actual presence of God in the world in the person of Jesus Christ, a man equipped, quips Spufford, "with two arms and two legs and probably the beard and quite possibly the bad teeth" of any first-century Jew. The church exists, he says, "like Christ, in order to be a channel by which mending enters the world; a mending which…does not depend on the success of human virtue, individual or collective, but on what breathes and shines through us if we let it."

"Letting it" is, of course, the central challenge of spiritual life; it's the only challenge that counts in my view. Everything else is embroidery. Through us, mending can enter the world…"if we let it".
Christianity offers "the impossible ideal of valuing other people as absolutely as you value yourself".

As I read Spufford's book I thought a great deal about my own Christian formation and that uneasy mix familiar to many of fear, self-contempt and hope that shrouded my earliest efforts to discover who and what I am.  It's clear that fear-driven religion is pretty much a curse, not least because it turns us against one another as well as against ourselves. In fact, it's worse than dangerous. So it's wonderful to read here of the possibility that somehow survives in Christianity - and certainly survives for those interested enough to think far, far more about what Jesus said and did than whatever his more rabid followers claim - that "there's room even in the darkest places…for the sudden and unpredictable and unpredicted leap toward the risk of love."

It may well be as difficult for an upper-class-sounding British writer to write about love as it is to write about religion. In fact, in British intellectual life you have permission to take virtually anything seriously except religion and love. Put the two together and you might as well claim the role of fool or pariah. But Spufford persists, brave man, and in two absolute stand-out chapters in his stand-out book he ventures to describe what cannot be described, what can barely be named and what is reduced, always, when named. "Churches are vessels of hush, as well as everything else they are," writes Spufford in his ironically named "Big Daddy" chapter. And I am reminded of Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God."

Such knowledge isn't linear. It isn't easily glimpsed unless you are reading or writing about Rilke or Rumi; isn't found in the fights and the shouting and the shrillness and the certainties; isn't available to be imposed; isn't…anything very familiar at all until you've felt it.

And yes, of course what you feel could simply be indigestion or a sorry delusion, but you suspect it's not. "I register something that precedes all this manifold immensity that is not-me and yet is real," writes Spufford. Then further on, "Beyond, behind, beneath all solid things there seems to be solidity…and though the experience is grand beyond my powers to conveys, it's not impersonal." Reading him, reading that, I felt my own experiences articulated in the space and spaciousness where at least for some truth lives.

Ancient icon, living truth
The other chapter I truly loved, oh goodness me, is "Yeshua", a very short somewhat speculative but convincing biographical account of Jesus. This entire book costs little more than a few cups of coffee and if you buy it for no other reason then buy it for this chapter. Here is a man, Jesus, who is "never disgusted", who never says that "anyone is too lost to be found", who will not agree that "hope is gone beyond recall". Here is a man bringing "unlimited love to a world of limits". "This is love going where we go, all of us, when we end…". And then, after Friday has become Saturday and then Sunday, here is a dead man alive enough to say, "Don't be afraid…Far more can be mended than you know."

Read it and rejoice.

 To purchase Unapologetic postage-free, please click on this LINK. It will also take you on to buy any of the wonderful books recommended here, or other books you are seeking. We do ask you to buy "locally" wherever possible. The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club and gives us vital support. As do your visits and comments! You can easily share your thoughts in the comments box immediately below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy! 

Jane Goodall hosts "Reading Life" and talks about words and music

Jane Goodall hosts your "Reading Life". Do share your views.
‘For the way I thought prose should move, I learned a lot from jazz. From the moment I learned to hear them in music, syncopation and rhythm were what I wanted to get into my writing.’ This is Clive James speaking – speaking on the page, that is, in an essay from Cultural Amnesia about the great jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong. I’m not sure why Clive James has become one of my favorite writers, but perhaps it has something to do with the music in him. 

Sometimes I pick up a book and put it straight down again because the writing seems to me to be tone deaf. There’s no sense of pitch or cadence, no feel for the rhythm and sound of words. Everyone who’s taken a writing course will have been told about how important it is to get the right ‘voice,’ and readers will often take to a book because it ‘sings’ to them in a particular way – even if their reception of this is fairly unconscious.  Yet how often do we turn to music to tune ourselves in to this subtle aspect of the writer’s art?

Since this page is about readers, I’m very interested to know about how reading and music may work together for you. Thinking about this prompted me to get in touch with my friend Marie and put the question to her. Marie is someone I always encounter in two places: at concerts, and at reading/writing groups. Her grandmother taught her to play the piano at the age of five, and by that time Marie was also a compulsive reader. She loved nursery rhymes, which she learned by heart, and soon the fascination with how words sounded and phrases sang led her to read poetry. Judith Wright and John Shaw Neilson are two of her favourite poets.
‘Do you listen to music while you are reading?’ I asked. Marie gave a cautious response. A great book and a great musical work demand full attention, she said. ‘It does a disservice to the musical work not to listen with one’s whole being.’
‘To listen with one’s whole being’ – now there’s a phrase with a ring about it. Sometimes a really good reading experience is like that, isn’t it?
One of the reasons I want to focus on reading in the Universal Heart Book Club is that I believe it is a skill and an art, like good listening. It’s about allowing yourself to be called out, heart and soul, but when you are ‘out there’, you are following the art of the writing with a finely tempered instinct for its shapes and resonances. Although sometimes, too, you are just enjoying the dramatic power of damn fine tune. For example, Marie loves Bette Midler singing ‘The Rose’. I have been inspired by great songs sometimes when I am working on a story. Jeff Buckley sings the hauntingly mysterious "Corpus Christi Carol" with a concentration that seems to deepen the imagination as you listen.

Tim Buckley
As Marie says: ‘We know now that the Universe is made of energy, and it seems to me that great music and great poetry both tap into the deep vibrations and rhythms of the Universe in ways that I can't explain, thus having immense spiritual power.’

Now here’s a challenge for you, our readers: what is your favourite piece of music? And can you think of a piece of writing – a book, a poem, an article - that lives up to it? Even more particularly, when or how is your reading life enhanced by music (and what music is that)?  We are keen to hear from you!  Use the comments box immediately below. Easy to use via "Anonymous" if you don't have a Google account. And you can enter your name in the text box. Don't hold back.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lina Good affirms the vital voice of kindness

"In my view, kindness is the finest of all human qualities. "
 Lina Good is a reader and keen follower of The Universal Heart Book Club. In this short appreciation she shares her profound desires for a kinder world.

I feel deep joy reading Stephanie Dowrick’s books and hearing her voice which, for me, is in perfect harmony with the voices of dear people I have known in my life. Those shared values, thoughts and ideas resonate with a ring of truth and wisdom. Sadly, that calm, gentle, clear voice is all too often drowned out by loud, aggressive, dogmatic voices in our various communities. This brings me to my reason for writing these thoughts:  I would like to affirm the voice of kindness. 
We all know when we have been encouraged and uplifted and, equally, we know when our spirit has been damaged or crushed.  I know I have been fortunate to have had a mother and a father who lived their ideals as Stephanie has described. They gave me a foundation and a springboard for life. I see how I have been drawn to people who share these values. You can imagine my delight and gratitude when I discovered Stephanie Dowrick’s books.

From my earliest years, I have been aware of the transforming power of words.   

We all know how everything changes when we hear the words “I’m sorry,” sincerely expressed.  In sharp contrast, we know how our hopes are dashed when we hear the flat words, “You’re wrong.”  We have ample evidence of our shared human yearning to be heard and understood.  One of the human experiences that brings deepest happiness is when people listen respectfully to each other and grow in their capacity for empathy and love.

Among the most memorable and cherished words given to me were those spoken by my father at a time of deep sorrow at the end of his long, well-lived, radically kind and compassionate life: simply this – “Just remember, underneath it all, there’s love.”  Those words of comfort have been transformative within my heart and mind and have shed light on the whole spectrum of our human experience. With that thought, the sacred is never distant.
Some people think that it is not possible to put ideals into action in the real world. Many people know that it is and their lives show the freedom, peace and lightness of heart their choices bring. In my view, kindness is the finest of all human qualities. It can be given and received anywhere, in the most surprising of circumstances.  True kindness springs from the heart.

I have felt unbridled enthusiasm for Australia and the generous Aussie spirit since moving here from Canada in 1981. I have met so many kind and vibrant people that it seemed a fine idea to link these like-minded people together to form a network of kindness to promote positive change in our world.  In 1999, I announced to my bemused children that I intended to start “A Revolution of Kindness” and gave my captive audience details of my grandiose plans.
Stephanie Dowrick takes kindness as her central theme in this book.
During my first enthusiastic flow of ideas, I had overlooked some obvious impediments to my grand plan, foremost among them, my preference for one-to-one, quiet conversation and my tendency to shudder at the thought of communicating with large groups.  My ideas remained dormant except for occasional, amusing one-liners from someone in the family when we heard of the positive initiatives of others – “Oh, that’s like your ‘Revolution of Kindness,’ Mum!”

Fittingly, I was told of Stephanie Dowrick’s “The Universal Heart Bookclub” and Universal Heart Network by a very kind person.  I was thrilled.  If ever there was an instrument to galvanize a revolution of kindness, it is this.  In my opinion, Stephanie’s words, ideas and values form the core, the foundation and the framework for a life well-lived.  Surely, that is the greatest challenge and highest goal of life and the most precious gift each one of us can give. 
About Lina Good
Lina writes: "I was born and educated in Canada and worked as a counsellor with young people during the 1970s. In 1981, I married an Aussie who I had met in Israel and we settled in Australia. We have one daughter and one son and have been living in Coffs Harbour, NSW, since 1989. I worked as a registered psychologist from 1991 until  retirement in 2011. My keen interest in the healing conversation remains strong."   
Keen to read or comment?  
To purchase Everyday Kindness or any of the many books recommended in this Book Club, please visit our bookstore link (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. As do your visits and comments! We love to hear from readers. You can easily share your thoughts in the comments box immediately below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Walter Mason reads Mary Paterson's The Monks and Me

"In the stormy refuge of life, take refuge in yourself" - Thich Nhat Hanh
Having just returned from my own brief retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in Hong Kong, I was delighted to discover Mary Paterson's book, The Monks and Me, in a Melbourne bookshop. It is her account of a 40 day period spent in residence at Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in Southern France, Plum Village.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been an immense spiritual influence on both me and my Universal Heart Book Club co-host Stephanie Dowrick. I know that he is also a beloved figure for many of you that are a part of the club as well. I can proudly say I have read everything written by and about this Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master, and The Monks and Me makes a charming addition to this list.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Mary Paterson is a Canadian writer who goes to stay at Plum Village with something of a heavy heart. She is unlucky in love and she is also torn by memories of her father's dementia and death. Arriving at the monastery she is not plunged instantly into some cliched heart of deep peace. Instead she finds an odd little collection of buildings filled with monastics and lay people, many of whom are carrying their own hurts and frustrations. As the retreat progresses, Paterson realises that some of the best teachers aren't monks and nuns at all, but some of the prickly souls she is forced to share rooms with.

Part of what makes The Monks and Me such a delight to read is the author's honest recognition of her own foibles and her propensity to romanticise Buddhism and the impossibly glamorous monks and nuns who glide so sleekly and beautifully on the edge of her new world. She discovers she has become something of a monastic snob, a state instantly recognisable to anyone who has spent any time in a monastery. Impatient and dismissive of "normal" people, she aches for contact with the other-worldly religious with their shaved heads and floating brown robes. In time she realises that this, too, is just another mental trap, something that ties her up her in the minutiae of worldly experience.

Her greatest lesson, learned whil sitting and listening to the teachings of Master Nhat Hanh (a process which turns out to be remarkably complicated) is that suffering must be looked squarely in the eye. She quotes him saying:

"Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world."

And in hearing this she realises that much of her restlessness and pain is the result of a perpetual escape from life's realities. It is a beautiful moment in the book, an epiphany that embraces many of the other characters she has encountered and, indeed, the entire world. 

Throughout The Monks and Me, Mary Paterson gives all kinds of details about the peculiar life that has evolved as a result of the tremendous popularity of this monastery. She also describes the gentle, accessible and idiosyncratic teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is healing and inspiring, and will be of immense interest to anyone who has found solace in the writings of this most gentle monk.

To purchase any of the wonderful books recommended here, or any other books you are seeking, you can visit our bookstore link (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club and gives us vital support. As do your visits and comments! We love to hear from you with short or longer comments. You can easily share your thoughts in the comments box immediately below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (put your name in the text box if you'd like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Rosamund Burton reflects on the profound benefits of A Course in Miracles and The Artist's Way

Travel writer, reviewer and journalist Rosamund Burton writes for us this month about two of the most popular modern spiritual classics, including A Course in Miracles which is a text "given" in inward dictation over a period of seven years to Helen Schucman, a New York psychologist and religious skeptic, that is initially somewhat baffling but has positively influenced countless millions of lives. Now let's hear from Rosamund as she talks about the books that changed her life: 

Author Rosamund Burton
Over the last few years I’ve been captivated by the work of authors who have been inspired by A Course in Miracles: Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira, who wrote Take Me to Truth, and English author, Robert Holden, whose books include Shift Happens, and Be Happy. When I told a friend I wanted to read A Course in Miracles she said she had the three volumes sitting in the boot of her car - and gave them to me. I immediately started to read the 600-page Text book (Volume 1). The Manual for Teachers remains unopened. On 1 January this year I read the first lesson of the Workbook for Students (Volume 2). There are 365 lessons and you read one daily, holding it in your mind during short meditation periods during the day. Each lesson provides guidance for shifting from the perspective of the ego to God-given truth and love.

As the world turns digital and publishing undergoes some of the greatest changes since the invention of the printing press, I have been crippled with fear and indecisiveness about my writing and what I should be doing. So much of this negative thinking stems from the ego. A Course in Miracles is about letting go of fears and grievances and listening to that inner voice that quietly guides you to the next step.

Alongside A Course in Miracles I have been revisiting The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I first read the book in 1999 and it redirected the course of my life, making me commit to my writing. For the last three months I have been leading a group through the twelve chapters of the book.  This powerful process has once again led me back onto my path.

The daily writing of three A4 sides of what Julia Cameron calls ‘morning pages’ and the weekly ‘artist’s date’  - a two-hour solo date doing something that delights you – have gently brought me back to myself. It has brought home the importance of nurturing and nourishing myself - going for a walk or a swim, or enjoying a sunrise or a sunset. I realize that over the last few years of relentless busyness I’ve been starving myself of so many of life’s joys, and also not allowing myself to create.

Julia Cameron stresses that all creativity comes from a universal source – God – and for those who struggle with that word – "Good Orderly Direction". The Artist’s Way is essentially a spiritual journey and its biggest lesson, for those us experiencing blocked creativity, is that creativity is a gift from God, and to create is a gift to God.

As my ego constantly questions whether I’m irresponsible, selfish and self-indulgent to want to do what I love, these two books have really re-enforced that my greatest gift to the world and my loved ones is to follow my dreams.
 Rosamund Burton was born in Ireland, and grew up in England. Now resident in Australia, Rosamund is the author of Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers, and account of her journey along St. Declan's Way in Ireland.

To purchase A Course in Miracles, The Artist's Way, or Ros Burton's Castles, Follies, or any of the many books recommended in this Book Club, please visit our bookstore link (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. As do your visits and comments! You can easily share your thoughts in the comments box immediately below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!  
[Stephanie Dowrick writes: Those of you wanting to read or venture towards A Course in Miracles may also want to read Marianne Williamson's famous and deeply reassuring, inspirational book that reflects on the central Course teachings, A Return to Love.]

Monday, June 3, 2013

Theodore Richards sees Lewis Hyde's "Trickster" as brilliantly subversive - and timely

 Lewis Hyde is an exceptionally gifted, original writer. Reviewing his Trickster Makes This World, religious philosopher Theodore Richards invites us to think about the challenging, fascinating power of the "boundary crosser", a striking archetype for anyone engaged in multi-cultural, inter-cultural or interfaith thinking and living - or anyone who values the creative, original and spontaneous over the timid, banal or conformist.

"The Trickster dances at the edge between the clean and the dirty."
There is an oft-repeated truism that while different religions may indeed be different they all are about the same god -“many paths to the same summit”, or something like that. But what if, one might ask, there is no single god? What if there are different summits and different truths, even contradictory ones? What if the interfaith movement is opening us up to the possibility not of a single answer but a web of paradoxical questions?

Lewis Hyde’s brilliant Trickster Makes This World reveals to the Modern reader that there is much that has been lost in the monotheistic project. Indeed, just when we think we’ve embraced a new paradigm through the interfaith axiom “many paths to the same summit”, the Trickster subverts even that paradigm, revealing to us a radically pluralistic world filled with paradox.

Most fundamentally, the Trickster is a boundary crosser. Culture functions through the construction of boundaries: we learn, through the stories of our religious traditions, what is sacred and profane, appropriate and inappropriate. There are good reasons for this, of course. Civilization provides some stability and order in a chaotic and wild world. A healthy fear of the wild is not such a bad thing. But too much rejection of the wilderness can lead to a rejection of our own wildness, the source of our creativity. The Trickster dances at the edge between the clean and the dirty. He shakes us up, calling upon us to question those categories.

Hyde quite accurately uses the example of American racial categories to demonstrate the absurdity of society’s categories and boundaries. Created during the early years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in North America, American racial categories arbitrarily divided Americans into two categories—black and white. In addition to serving the purpose of justifying slavery, these categories were fundamentally religious in nature, based upon the radical dualism of Calvinism. Whiteness was associated with purity and salvation; blackness was tainted, subhuman and damned, which is why the so-called “one-drop” theory—in which one “drop” of African blood defined a person as black, persists.

The Trickster can appear to be the fool. He is wildly inappropriate. He shows us the absurdity of the inertia of our well-worn paths. Similarly, the Trickster behaves like a child. His inappropriateness is not unlike the way a child might behave. And it is our child-like qualities—called “neotony” by biologists—that give us our most human of attributes: our desire to explore and create. These are the qualities that allowed us to become human, to venture out of the forests and into the unknown savannahs and beyond.

Lewis Hyde, whose Trickster "becomes the violator of limits".
Trickster has no place. Lacking the wisdom of other species, Raven and Coyote must figure out how to eat by their wits—just like the human. But it is this very lack of in-born wisdom that allows for the process of self-discovery, creativity, and world-building to occur.

In this way, the Trickster tale is also a Creation Story. The trickster makes this world by shaking things up, by unbalancing things. While most of the gods provide stability, the Trickster destabilizes. Just as we understand in modern science, too much stability is stagnancy, even death. The Trickster engages in the dance of predator and prey, allowing for Creation to occur again and again, for the universe to evolve and unfold.

In dualistic monotheism, the Trickster was turned into the devil. Religion, in such theologies, serves the purpose of separating saved and damned. Trickster becomes the violator of these limits. All this is not to say that the tendency of religions and cultures to make order of our world is not important and necessary. Of course it is, and I do not believe Hyde would disagree. But the Trickster reminds that we cannot become to attached to any order—even a good one. Even one that says “God is One.” All cultures require, paradoxically, the creative tension between creation and the undermining of boundaries. It is not that God is not one—rather, God is both one and many. The absurdity of this paradox lies at the heart of the healthy approach to interfaith that not only accepts but embraces the wild and paradoxical world in which we live.

Theodore Richards
Chicago-based Theodore Richards is a poet, writer, and religious philosopher whose most recent acclaimed book is Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto. Richards is the founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project and teaches world religions at The New Seminary, New York.

To purchase Trickster Makes this World visit our bookstore link (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. As do your visits and comments! You can easily share your thoughts in the comments box immediately below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!

Judith Pemell re-thinks crisis and change

Author Judith Pemell
Judith Pemell is a meditation teacher, psychotherapist and writer who has worked in an unusually wide range of settings, most recently in mental health services in Australia's detention centres where the political and social "treatment" of asylum seekers remains a highly contentious issue. In this Q&A with Universal Heart Book Club co-host, Stephanie Dowrick, Judith talks about her new book Transition: 7 Steps to Surviving Life Crisis, its structure and intent, and the circumstances under which it was written.

Q: Judith, I loved your earlier book, The Soul Illuminated. Tell me how this new one is different?
The Soul Illuminated, my first book, was essentially about the soul, and integrating the spiritual journey into our everyday lives. This new book is based on energy and consciousness and enables the reader to understand their transitions in life from an energy perspective. For instance, when energy becomes blocked, crisis tends to manifest in some area of our life - which is a reflection of our inner being. The book guides the reader through the 7 Steps to identify what the blockage is all about, then mobilize the blocked energy into transition and flow, promoting a leap in self-awareness and the dissolving of old, destructive energy patterns.

Q: Did your inspiration to write it come from the work you were doing with other people - or mainly from your own inner needs and promptings?
The inspiration came from both, but particularly my experience of a very challenging personal transition in 2008. I spent a lot of time in meditation as a result and this led me to the understanding of how blocked energy interferes with transition.

Q: What gave you the idea for the particular shape this book has (and please say a little about its accessibility, structure, etc)?
In planning, structuring and writing the first draft, I wrote the book in three parts. It was twice as long as it is now and covered a much broader scope of ideas. When Magnolia (who edited the book) fed her conclusions on the first draft back to me, she proposed rearranging the structure and very decisively cut two very significant areas of the writing, saying they really demanded to be written as books in their own right. I knew she was right.
Following Magnolia’s ideas on the restructure, I developed them further and did a lot of new writing. The result was a much more succinct, accessible, relevant and evolved book. I could feel its power growing as I worked through the final draft.

Q: I'd love to know what your greatest support is in your writing life - where isolation is a factor for so many people.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that I love isolation, though I find it very difficult to achieve. Being a long-term meditator, I love to withdraw into prolonged periods of deep silence. I am never alone in the silence as it is in this kind of solitude that connection with a much greater Energy Source of pure love and creativity enfolds me. Internally, a depth of clarity and truth emerge from this. Withdrawal into deep silence is a very important part of the creative process for me as it inspires, brings clarity, sustains and replenishes me completely.
"Life challenges us in many addressing the underlying causes of life crisis we can transform our lives."

Q: I am fascinated that you finished the book while working on the mental health team at a remote detention centre for those seeking asylum in Australia.  Please describe how this affected your thinking and even your stamina to get a book completed while dealing with so much sadness and uncertainty in the lives of those in your care? 

The actual writing of the book was done while I was working in several detention centres in various parts of Australia. These settings provided a surreal landscape, while the work reflected everything I was writing about from its tiniest, most subtle facets to its greatest, boldest strokes on the canvas.
Human beings seeking asylum all have stories of transition, and I would meet them at a place where their drama of physical survival (often utterly heartbreaking) was changing into a drama of survival at a very different level. Not a day could go by that I would not feel profoundly moved by these encounters. I took constant inspiration from my clients and observed their processes, responses, transitions and ways of coping, very deeply. Their energy, their feelings, and their narratives have made an indelible imprint in this book, although their stories do not appear in it.

Q: You are a meditation practitioner and teacher as well as a psychotherapist: how is that reflected in these pages?
I am naturally and passionately drawn to explore what makes us tick, to unravel the mysteries of existence, search for truth and meaning, and understand human behaviour. These provide rich mines for my curiosity, and a wonderful springboard for writing the book on Transition, or almost anything a person like me could think of writing.

Q: You have been writing this book since 2008. What's the major change it has brought about in your own life or thinking?
The constant learning I experience from Transition has enabled me to let go of so much of my old, limiting ideas, beliefs etc, especially in relation to myself and others. I feel much freer and more accepting of people as they are, of whatever comes along; I have developed an implicit faith and trust in the unfoldment of my own life drama, and I have stopped worrying. All of this frees up my energy to be more relaxed, more productive, to remain in the flow, and be more detached yet engaged, with this thing we call life.

Q: What's your "prayer" for this book as it moves into readers' hands?
I like to be very detached about a book once it passes out of my hands. I am mindful not to block any energy around it with my own agendas. I never feel that the book is ‘mine’ or that it belongs to me, as I know I am an instrument for sharing what has been given to me as a gift. When people contact me to let me know that it has really helped them in some way, then I feel reassured that it has come into the hands of those who are ready for its message - for that’s how it works - and it’s such a good feeling!

"Everything begins and ends in silence. Stillness and silence are the source of power."
- From Transition

We would love you to share your thoughts about this book - or any reviewed on these pages. Judith Pemell's Transition is available for download on Kindle, iphone, ibook and other e-book outlets.  Print copies are available from:  or (from her website)