Musings and Reviews of Metaphysical, New Age and Meaningful Writings

Posts tagged ‘Buddhism’

WILD AWAKE #BookReview and #AuthorInterview


wild-awake-cover-final“…from time to time we need to ‘rewild’ ourselves,” says Vajragupta, and he shares his encounters with wild creatures and wild landscapes in an enchanting way, making us feel we’ve entered a secret world with him.

Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature will make you want to follow Vajragupta’s example of using solitary retreats in nature to become more “fully awake,” more like the Buddha, a name which means “one who is awake.”

What are the benefits of being more fully awake? Perhaps you’ll find it easier to meditate, to get in touch with your soul, to make the right choices for your life. In solitary retreat, as Vajragupta describes, you are better able, in the silence, to hear your truth and know the solutions.

“Places, perhaps especially wild places, can talk to us; they can be full of suggestion and meaning. Inner and outer worlds can mirror each other, and this changes our awareness.”

It’s easy to understand how being out in nature stimulates and nourishes your soul, as Vajragupta describes his 25 years of taking solitary retreats. For those who have questions about how to get the most out of such retreats, he provides an A to Z guide with practical advice and suggestions for designing your own.

Read Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature for inspiration, then get out there as often as possible!

Thanks to author and Buddhist teacher Vajragupta, who answers my questions here…

AUTHOR INTERVIEW QUESTIONS WITH VAJRAGUPTA

What would you like readers to take away from the experiences you shared in Wild Awake?

I would love it if the book encouraged more people to try out solitude in nature. Some people take to this quite easily. For others, solitude can seem more daunting or challenging. Fear and trepidation can put us off. In solitude we are going to meet ourselves fully and deeply. And we might feel afraid of who we might meet!

I remember one place I stayed in for a solitary retreat that had a “visitors book” and it was moving and inspiring reading the entries. Quite a few of them were from people on retreat, and on their own, for the first time, and they described how those first feelings of anxiety soon gave way to a sense of joy and freedom. We all have our ups and downs on retreat, but we can learn to be OK with that, which is tremendously liberating and confidence giving.

How does it feel when the barrier drops between your inner and outer worlds?

Perhaps we won’t even be aware of it till afterwards. At the time we are not thinking about things like that, we are just absorbed in the world around us. There is a story about the Zen master Dogen that I love. He was asked what it was like to be Enlightened and he said, “it is to be intimate with all things.” In nature I sometimes get glimpses, or intimations, of that. There is a sense of closeness and connection, of love. Trees, stone walls, old winding lanes become like friends! Things become more beautiful and interesting for their own sake.

Years ago I heard a story of a man camping on Dartmoor, probably the wildest part of England. He really tuned into the place. So much so, that if he kicked a stone when he was walking along, he stopped and put it back where it came from. That might sound crazy, but I can understand how he felt. I too can feel that strong sense of care, closeness, and respect, wanting to leave things exactly as I found them, wanting to “live lightly in this world.”

How can a solitary retreat lead you to a realization of your life’s purpose or change you and your perspective?

A friend of mine who was a poet once said that in order to write we need space, and space around the space. In other words, for deeper emotions and thoughts to emerge, the heart and the mind really need lots of time and space. Our lives can often be so full and busy that those deeper parts of ourselves get crowded out and damped-down. We lose touch with what is really meaningful and significant. Of course, the day-to-day stuff we are engaged in may be an expression of what is really important to us, but retreats (solitary or otherwise) are really important for staying in touch with those depths and allowing new inspiration to arise.

How did the places you retreated to become part of your transformation?

In the book I describe some of the beautiful places I have done solitary retreats, and how the landscape and character of a place could have an effect on me. For example, I talk about staying in a lovely old stone cottage on the mouth of an estuary. It was a mile from the road, so you had to bring everything you needed in by foot. When the tide was up, you looked out over a mile-wide stretch of water, like a big lake. When the tide was out, there was an open expanse of sand, with the sea just visible on the horizon. Then the tide gradually snaked its way back again. Birds, fishes, and other sea life moved with the tides. Everything was always moving and changing. I loved the changingness of it – it totally absorbed me. It was an easy place just to be, to be still and content. I think I touched into a deeper contentment than I had ever experienced before. That was partly because of the place, the character and atmosphere of the place. It was generous, abundant, it gave so much to me. The outer world spoke to my inner world, it changed me.

How did your solitary retreats make you feel “closer to life?”

In lots of ways. For example, on retreat you can just feel more alive and energetic. Because there is less external input and stimulation, you can be more in touch with your emotions, and the dreams and reflections of your inner world. You also start to notice the senses more, and what is around you in the external world. Things can feel more raw, but also more real.

One thing I reflect on in the book is encounters with wild creatures – foxes, birds, deer – that have sometimes happened on solitary retreats. For example, I talk about meeting a fox on a mountainside and us just looking at each other for a long time. Like many people, I can find these encounters special, magical, almost like a “blessing.” I have often wondered why we find these meetings with wild animals so significant and wonderful. Again, I think it is about that sense of connection, of overcoming our human separateness from the world. We are drawn out of ourselves and into the world. At the very same time, having that creature gaze at us, in the unblinking way wild creatures just gaze, also throws us back on ourselves. We are aware of them as a creature, with their awareness, looking at us, and that makes us more aware of standing there, being there, as a human being, with our mental faculties and our particular mode of awareness. That is another kind of “closeness to life.”

How can being alone strengthen your connection with others?

This may seem paradoxical, but my experience of solitude is that it helps me be more connected to others. I go back home from a solitary retreat with a stronger sense of those I am close to, perhaps more appreciation of someone, perhaps more understanding. Again, it is about having enough space for the heart to fully open, and for awareness to broaden, so we can really take others in.

Often, when we are too busy for too long, our awareness narrows and our heart closes down. In Wild Awake, one chapter is about a solitary retreat I did quite soon after my father died. This might seem a strange time to choose to be alone, but I found it very helpful. It was a rich and special time. I brought lots of photos of my father from different times in his life and pinned them up on the walls. I had the time and space to really assimilate what had happened, to think of my father, to write down in my journal some of the things he had said in his last months. He was strongly present with me on that retreat: every time I meditated he appeared in my mind’s eye, many nights I dreamt about him. I felt very fortunate to have the time to process his death in this way. Of course there was pain, sadness, and grief, but there was also joy, gratitude, and appreciation.

I understand you are currently writing your next book, Free Time. What did you learn on your retreats that spurred your interest in the subject of time?

I noticed that my experience of time was totally different on retreat. In everyday life I could often be trying to do things fast, so I had more time later. Or trying to get everything ticked off on my “to do” list. Or always planning how I could fit more useful activities into the day, to get more done, more efficiently. But, as Jon Kabatt-Zinn says, “if you fill all your time, you won’t have any.” Time rushes by and feels thin and insubstantial.

On retreat, by contrast, life can seem almost “timeless” in a liberating way. After a few days on retreat, I often feel I have been there for a few weeks. Time feels rich, full, brimming. I am able to have more awareness on a retreat and this means my attention moves along with things as they unfold. I can move along with the day, more in its time and rhythm. Often our attention is leaning back into the past, or straining forward into the future, and this distorts our subjective experience of time. But on retreat we can stay more in the present, which means time feels more relaxed and open. To be more mindful is also to be more time-full!

Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. Also check out the publisher’s website for more information and a video interview with Vajragupta.

Namaste!
Becca Chopra, author of The Chakra DiariesChakra SecretsBalance Your Chakras-Balance Your Lifeand The Chakra Energy Diet

www.theChakras.org

 

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Somewhere Between Black and White… Therein Lies the Truth


Somewhere graphic ebookHave you ever felt an instant attraction to someone, felt like you’ve known them before, or felt at home with them right away? Could it be because you’ve had a past-life connection with them? This idea has been explored in my own books and in a wonderful read I just finished, Somewhere Between Black and White, a multi-layered, complex, thoughtful love story by Shelly Hickman.

Sophie, the heroine of Somewhere Between Black and White, isn’t one to put herself in another person’s shoes before making judgments, until she falls under the influence of the calm and cool Sam… and then the fun and her growth into a better person begins.

In this novel, Hickman’s lovers Sophie and Sam have been a couple in a past life, a past that Sophie “sees” when she first kisses Sam, a past she uncovers as their relationship develops. Sam’s Buddhist philosophy is one he learned in this past life and is one he more fully embraces in his current incarnation, and shares with Sophie, helping her in all her relationships. She becomes more understanding of her ill sister’s choices and more accepting of things that she found impossible to comprehend before.

The growth of all the characters in Somewhere Between Black and White is inspiring… wouldn’t we all be happier and healthier if we gave up judgment of others, and embraced kindness and compassion instead? I love the tingle that I get from romantic novels like this, and find it a bonus when there’s a lesson that the story leaves me with as well. The Buddhist tenets of non-judgment and non-attachment come across very well in Sam’s actions and we the readers, as well as Sophie, benefit from his teachings.

Shelly HickmanHere, author Shelly Hickman answers my questions about Somewhere Between Black and White:

BECCA: I enjoyed reading your work of fiction and finding an inspirational message, specifically the Buddhist tenets of non-judgment and non-attachment. How did you see these teachings integral to the growth of your main character?

SHELLY: When I began writing “Somewhere,” I wanted the theme to focus on our tendency, as a society, to judge others. I’m not trying to imply that there shouldn’t be consequences for our actions, and that people should be able to do whatever they like with no repercussions, but so often we assume we know another’s motivations and make snap judgments about people and what they’re about. But the truth of the matter is that, as the saying goes, we can never understand another’s choices until we’ve walked in their shoes.

Sophie is the personification of this shortcoming. Though her intentions are good, her love and concern for her sister blind her to the possible suffering of Christian, her brother-in-law. Because she refuses to consider life through his eyes, even briefly, she is quick to write him off as worthless. At the same time, it’s her attachment to her sister that makes her so overbearing, and oftentimes, obnoxious.

BECCA: Do you include many of your own experiences into your fiction?

SHELLY: Generally, it’s the little details throughout my novels that are from my own life. However, my first novel, Believe, was hugely based on experiences I had when my daughter went through treatment and passed away from cancer. My upcoming release, Menopause to Matrimony, also has quite a few references to things I’ve experience with the onset of perimenopause, and I’ve tried to approach them in a humorous way.

BECCA: What is the importance of the past-life connection between Sophie and Sam? Did they have specific lessons they still needed to learn from each other?

SHELLY: With the past-life connection between Sophie and Sam, I tried to show an ongoing mutual benefit they receive from their relationship. Sam (Matthew in a former life), was significantly impacted by his friendship with the Buddhist soldier, Ping. That lifetime was part of Sam’s “schooling,” for lack of a better word, that made him who he is in this lifetime. Sophie is kind of his learning partner, and although Sam is more evolved than Sophie, her presence in his life makes him better. She gives him the opportunity to practice the patience and tolerance he feels is so important, and at times, she expressly reminds him what he believes. For instance, when Matthew and Natalie argue about his need to avenge his father, Natalie calls him on his beliefs, and points out that he should let the man upstairs handle it. We don’t know the details of the loss of his father, and we really don’t really need to. All we know is that he’s angry and bitter, and Natalie (Sophie) is there to challenge him—does he buy into what Ping tried to impart, or not?  I feel Sam’s prior connection with Sophie, along with his forgiving nature, allow him to see past all her strong opinions to the essentially good heart underneath.

BECCA: Can you explain why Sam liked to say, It’s all good? How can we, as your readers, apply this in our lives?

SHELLY: Sam sort of addresses this idea when he shares his thoughts on the meaning of soul mate. He believes a soul mate is someone you learn from and who helps you grow as a person. I think we can all acknowledge that difficult circumstances, as well as difficult people in our lives, often help us grow. So when Sam says, “It’s all good,” he’s talking about in the big scheme of things. In my opinion, we’re all here to learn, grow, and love, and often we don’t do that unless we’re put in challenging, and sometimes painful, situations. I don’t know what it is about humans that we have to learn the hard way. Though easier said than done, I think when we’re going through a difficult or painful time, if we can manage to step back and try to learn something from it, in the end, “It’s all good.”

BECCA: What hope or message do you wish to offer others with this book?

SHELLY: The main message I wanted to convey with this book is that we should at least try to see things through another person’s viewpoint before getting all judgey on them. It’s difficult. I think the older I get, the more judgmental I’ve become, but in truth, when I try to see a situation through someone else’s eyes, I can’t help but be more compassionate, which makes me feel better, rather than having the opinion that people just suck.

BECCA: What themes are you addressing in your other three books?

SHELLY: As I briefly mentioned earlier, my first book, Believe, is quite different than what I now write. I wrote it after losing my daughter as a way to work through my grief and anger. The writing is quite bare, and because it has a lot of metaphysical elements, it’s not for everyone. Believe was something I had to write as part of my healing process, but I also hope that anyone who reads it might find it healing as well, especially anyone who has gone through horrible loss.

My third book, Vegas to Varanasi, and its sequel coming November 1st, Menopause to Matrimony, are very different than my first two. There’s no intended deeper message in these novels. They are romantic comedies that are meant to entertain, and hopefully give the reader a chuckle or two. However, in all of my stories, I attempt to show the human side of characters who create the conflict. Although there are people in this world who are truly awful and mean-spirited, I prefer to fill my stories with characters who still have endearing qualities, despite causing grief for the main character. Even “villains” aren’t one-dimensional. Not sure if I pull it off or not, but it’s my goal, at least.

BECCA: What suggestions do you have for other writers who feel they have an important message to share?

SHELLY: Try not to beat the reader over the head with your message, although this can be challenging. Because you will never please everyone, some readers will flat out miss your message, while others will think you forced it. It’s difficult to create a balance where the reader can come to conclusions on their own without spoon-feeding. Readers have sometimes said that in Believe and Somewhere Between Black and White, that they didn’t “get” certain elements, or that I left out too much information and rushed through. I will admit that I have always had problems with brevity, and I think that’s because of the kind of reader I am. I don’t require or even like long, drawn-out descriptions and explanations, and I’m quick to axe material I feel adds nothing to the story. And back to being cautious about spoon-feeding, I like to believe that readers will take away ideas or impressions from my intended message that I had never even considered, which is awesome!

Somewhere Between Black and White is available on Amazon.com. For more information on Shelly’s writing, please see www.shellyhickman.com.

Namaste!

Becca Chopra, author of Chakra Secrets, The Chakra Diaries, The Chakra Energy Diet and Balance Your Chakras, Balance Your Life
www.theChakras.org

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