A Novel Look at Yoga, Meditation, and Vegetarianism
Thanks to guest reviewer, Kristin Tone, an author, Yoga teacher, and educator, for providing this look inside The Swami Deheftner.
Robert Goldstein has written a fascinating novel about spirituality and life. In The Swami Deheftner, he uses story to impart knowledge in an engaging and thought-provoking investigation of the making of a spiritual Master.
What hooked me was the “human-ness” of the main character’s journey. Solomon, or Sollie, has a deep longing to know himself and to fully experience all aspects of his humanity. His courage to make choices outside the accepted mainstream encourages the reader to consider what might be available if such courage and humility are called upon.
Other themes in this book include Yoga, vegetarianism, animal intelligence, mystical transcendence, Houdini, magic, and escape from bondage. The reader need not have any previous knowledge or even interest in such subjects, as the story itself is so engaging. I was delighted to find that upon completing the book, I had learned much about subjects previously unknown to me – and a desire to find out more.
The Swami Deheftner is presented in the form of a memoir, recounted by the fictional character Solomon Deheftner. It is comprised of short episodes that move back and forth through time, each episode a story of its own, yet woven together to create a greater whole. As a young boy in Brooklyn, Solomon discovers a book about the legendary magician and escapologist Harry Houdini. Inspired not just by the standard principles of magic, but by the physical and mental disciplines adopted by Houdini, young Solomon secretly studies and emulates Houdini’s process. Sollie eventually becomes a successful stage magician capable of astounding physical exploits. Still, something gnaws at Sollie’s soul and finally forces him to abandon a career of performance to pursue the magic of mystical transcendence through Yoga and meditation. During his growth as a Yogi and ultimately a Yoga instructor, the spirit of Houdini, as a sort of enigmatic and flawed guru, continues to inspire Sollie, and entices him to explore Yoga’s most advanced and obscure secrets.
The Swami Solomon Deheftner masters a host of advanced and highly esoteric Yoga practices, all thoroughly researched by the author and portrayed in fascinating detail in the book. But the truly inspiring aspect of the story, for me, was how an insular, socially reticent, emotionally challenged introvert like Sollie was ultimately able to find love, family, and happiness through the sort of spiritual illumination available to all of us through practice and compassionate living.
The story also features some interesting supporting characters, including Lilly: a Yoga teacher and vegetarian chef, Tomasuchi: a Japanese martial arts sensei, Phil: an ex-Navy Seal seeking spiritual illumination, and Sultana: a professional dominatrix who wants more in her life.
The author, Robert Steven Goldstein, a Yogi living in the San Francisco Bay Area, was kind enough to answer my questions about his evocative novel:
KRISTIN: Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism are explored extensively in your novel. They form the foundation upon which your character, Solomon Deheftner, builds a path toward spirituality. Are these practices a part of your personal life?
Yes, I’ve been practicing Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism for well over forty years. It’s still somewhat odd to hear myself talk about Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism separately, because historically, Yoga has always encompassed meditation and vegetarianism. But today, especially in America, Yoga is often seen as a set of exercises, detached from any spiritual, moral, or ethical core. So, in the novel, as well as in my day-to-day conversations, I’m careful to explicitly mention all three of these critical aspects of Yoga and spirituality.
KRISTIN: What inspired you to write the book?
I have always been fascinated by connections I perceive across beliefs and behaviors that appear on the surface to have little in common. As a boy I was exposed to Orthodox Judaism, and I also dabbled a bit in magic. I’ve studied Yoga for decades. I was once acquainted with a professional dominatrix, and over the years I’ve known a number of people who practiced martial arts. If you dig a bit into each of these practices, the similarities you discover are astonishing. I think they point to a yearning for mystical or spiritual awakening that all humans share. It seemed to me, as a writer, that exploring these connections, via a main character who felt compelled to immerse himself in such things in a somewhat extreme fashion, would be a fascinating fodder for a novel.
KRISTIN: A number of animals appear in your novel: a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and an especially memorable parrot named Einstein. All are fleshed out quite vividly. Why did you choose to include animals as characters in a novel geared toward adults?
Thank you for referring to these animals as characters. That was my goal, to paint them as full characters, with the same legitimacy and vibrancy as the human characters. Aside from the fact that their stories and personalities are, I think, rather entertaining, there is a more important reason for their inclusion. Yoga, when embraced as a way of life, includes certain moral and ethical precepts. Foremost among these is “Ahimsa”, a Sanskrit term for harmlessness or behaving in a non-injurious way. A committed Yogi endeavors not to harm other living creatures. This idea of harmlessness is a very powerful tool in spiritual awakening. It leads to a respect and love for animals, and the recognition that they are individuals with awareness and spiritual cores just like humans. Vegetarianism is an obvious corollary.
KRISTIN: What do you hope readers take from your novel?
The first responsibility of a writer is to entertain, so I hope readers find the book enjoyable. Beyond that, any sort of inspiration people may derive from the book would be immensely gratifying for me. One reader, a man in his sixties, contacted me through my website. He had undergone hip replacement surgery a year ago, but some of his pain and discomfort had returned. He said that this book inspired him to try Yoga for the first time in his life. It’s been helping him. That sort of story is just so wonderful to hear
The Swami Deheftner is available in Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle editions on Amazon.com.
Guest reviewer Kristin Tone is a co-author of Breathe, a novel about Yoga, love, self-discovery, and personal growth. She graduated from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in Psychology and received an M.A. in Education from Lesley University.
Becca Chopra, author of Chakra Secrets, The Chakra Diaries and Balance Your Chakras, Balance Your Life