Click on over to my Madeleine Moments blog and read about the 100th anniversary of Marcel Proust’s first novel, the 6th year anniversary of my blog, and leave a comment to possibly win prizes, including a signed copy of my novel, Parisian by Heart, which features Marcel Proust himself.
To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment here, or on the Madeleine Moments blog, or like my Parisian by Heart Facebook page. Contest ends Feb. 18th, 2013.
(Now that the contest is over, find the winners here.)
Like her counterpart the Virgin Mary, Quan Am, the Boddhisattva of Compassion, hears the heartfelt prayers of the people and responds with compassion and aid.
In keeping with the principles of Buddhism, she brings this blessing: “May all Living Beings be Well, Happy, Peaceful and Secure.”
Originally from India, known there as Avalokitesvara, Quan Am is her Vietnamese name. She is also known in China as Kuan Yin and Kannon in Japan.
This statue, made in Vietnam, now resides in the Perfect Wisdom and Great Compassion Zen Garden at what will be Master Adam Nguyen’s International Yoga Institute on Parker Lane, Knotts Island, NC. All are welcome.
Saturday, November 17th, 2012 a friend and I went to the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, VA., to hear Dr. Eben Alexander III, author of Proof of Heaven, speak of his near-death experience. I had first read about Dr. Alexander in Newsweek and, as I read about Dr. Alexander’s vision of “Heaven” that included fluffy white clouds, a lush green valley, masses of butterflies and a beautiful girl, I thought sounds like the Western white Christian version of Heaven. Bah, humbug. Then this friend asked me if I had seen the article; she had read the book and was so overwhelmed by it that she had bought it and wanted to loan it to me. I read it and ended up having a lot of questions about the whole thing. But let’s hear a little bit about Dr. Alexander’s experience:
Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.
In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.
When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.
Then, on the morning of my seventh day in the hospital, as my doctors weighed whether to discontinue treatment, my eyes popped open.
There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility. (From the Newsweek article, Oct. 8th, 2012)
One of my questions was, if this guy’s “higher order brain functions were completely offline”, how, after he came out of the coma, did he remember what happened while he was in the coma? And how did he know that this experience happened while he was in the coma, and not right before, when he was having convulsions as the bacterial meningitis attacked his brain, or right afterward, as he was coming out of the coma (he also says that at this time, he had psychotic delusions in which his wife was chasing him in a hospital and he was rescued by Ninjas)? And that this experience constitutes “proof” of a real place called “Heaven”?
Then this friend tells me that Dr. Alexander is coming to the A.R.E. and asks if I want to go with her. The Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), for those unfamiliar with the place, is described thus on their website: “Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) founded the non-profit Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in 1931, to explore spirituality, holistic health, intuition, dream interpretation, psychic development, reincarnation, and ancient mysteries—all subjects that frequently came up in the more than 14,000 documented psychic readings given by Cayce.” So you know the audience there for Dr. Alexander is going to be sympathetic, as is my friend, and, with reservations mostly involving the questions above, so was I. Let me explain.
I believe in what Dr. Alexander (in a playful and affectionate manner) calls “woo-woo”. I believe in reincarnation, in near-death experiences, in the existence and persistence of the spirit after the body has expired, in other worlds and multiverses. If you know me or have read my book Parisian by Heart, you know that I have seen ghosts, including my maternal grandfather, my husband’s father, and a woman who lived in our house many years ago, and have spoken to them and heard them speak to me. I have not had a near-death experience, although my friend’s mother has; she herself has had an out-of-body experience- but I am a self-taught lucid dreamer who always knows when I am dreaming and have traveled through space and time in my dreaming body.
I believe in a Divine Creator who brought into being all that there is and that we, and everything we can experience in this world and beyond it, carry sparks of the divine within. I do not believe in a god who gives his creations one shot at life and then consigns good folks to a place called Heaven or bad folks to a place called Hell, for all eternity, which is a very long time. I believe in a creator that has sent us, and continues to send, teachers, like Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa and Edgar Cayce, to help guide us and show us the way. And sometimes, maybe even an ordinary joe like Dr. Alexander gets to bring back a little piece of the divine to share.
So on this Saturday, Dr. Alexander speaks to the standing room only crowd in a conference room at the A.R.E. From 10a to 12p he stands before an Apple computer while beside him, a large screen projects the PowerPoint presentation that outlines his NDE (near-death experience) and how it affected his life. There is also a question and answer session. The presentation and Q&A’s continue in an afternoon “workshop” the same day from 2:30-4:30p. Then, of course, there is a book-signing. My friend has brought her copy of the book to be signed.
As my friend helps explain to me, and as is discussed in the presentation and answers, Dr. Alexander can remember his NDE because of, and as proof of, the existence of one’s consciousness outside of the brain and body. Memories, information of all kinds, remembrances of past lives, etc., can be accessed from that other realm, through psychedelic drugs (not recommended) or in trance states, like Edgar Cayce did, or through deep meditation, Dr. Alexander’s preferred method. As he talks, remembering and relating his experience, he shuts his eyes for many moments, as if watching a movie inside his mind. His time in that other realm was more real to him, he says, than anything he has ever experienced. It has not faded with time, as a dream or nightmare would have.
And what about the fluffy white clouds, the green valley, the butterflies, the beautiful girl…? Dr. Alexander believes that our personal perception of this world and the constructs of what we perceive as “Heaven” color and overlay the translation and transmitting of that other realm he visited, a place of peace that is suffused with the divine and to which we, after many lifetimes here, will eventually return to spend eternity.
But still….”Proof of Heaven”? Turns out the book’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, chose the title, and Dr. Alexander objected to it vehemently. His experience, he argued, did not constitute proof, and the “place” he went to was not Heaven as Christians would define it. The publishers also asked him to remove nearly 3/4 of the book as he had written it, in order not to overwhelm the readers at first. It could serve as an introduction to him and his NDE and subsequent conclusions and reflections on it, and if it was well-received, a second book could contain the removed material. Much of that has to do with quantum physics/string theory/frequencies and vibrations and its parallels with all that “woo-woo” stuff.
One more thing- the beautiful girl. Dr. Alexander was adopted after his 16 year-old, unmarried mother gave him up a few months after his birth. As he got older he searched for his birth mother, off and on, occasionally working with a social worker, but it wasn’t until after his NDE that the social worker called him to say his birth family was ready to make contact with him. His birth mother had ended up marrying Dr. Alexander’s father, her childhood sweetheart, and they had gone on to have three more children. When he finally went to meet them, there was his mother, his father, and two siblings. After the emotions of the meeting had died down, he asked them where was the third sibling? She died two years ago, they said, and handed him a picture of her. Two years ago was before the doctor’s near-death experience. He looked at the photo. It was the beautiful girl.
An amazing thing has happened- a real yoga Master has appeared on our island and is going to build an “International Yoga Institute” here. Why is this so amazing? Because I have been doing yoga off and on since I was a teenager (some 40+ years ago) but have never had an actual teacher, much less one who is a Grand Master. When I say “actual” teacher, I mean a living being- I have only done my yoga through books, tapes and DVD’s, “virtual” teachers, at best. This actual teacher is named Master Adam Nguyen and you can read about him here. I have been attending a weekly one-hour class every Thursday since May (2012) here on the island, and have had several private lessons as well. Master Adam stresses holding poses for lengthy amounts of time, and goes to each student to correct their positions if needed, and sometimes pulls you farther into each pose, to show how much more you are capable of doing, something a virtual teacher cannot give. Having him here has made a great deal of difference in my yoga practice.
This house is on the property that Master Adam bought on Knotts Island and he is allowing us (his students) to use it as a place to practice and as a place to have an Art Day. On August 7th, 2012, from 11am to 1pm, we will draw, paint, write, play instruments…whatever art or literary-ness you want to create. Bring supplies (I will also have some there), your creativity, a willingness to share and/or to learn, or just come to enjoy the vibes. Read more about it here and here’s a map.
As a warm-up to Art Day, there will be a one-hour yoga class on the same day, at the same place, at 10am. This class will not be led by Master Adam, but we may have him “virtually”, if we can get a TV set up to play one of his DVD’s. If not, we will follow his guidelines as best we can on our own. Bring your yoga mat or a large towel, some water, and please, no perfumes or strong scents.
Namaste, and see you on Art Day!
…is the title of my second novel, which I have just finished on May 28, 2012. This book required lots more research than my first one, Parisian by Heart, even though, like that novel, it is a work of fiction. But also like that first book, it is based on historical events. In Father We Go, I have written about the early attempts at colonization, from the first failed English attempts at Roanoke to the eventually successful one at Jamestown, to attempts by French Huguenots and the Spanish. The time period spans from the 1500′s and 1600′s to the Depression years to the present, in a bit of time-skipping. The voices of the narrative include colonists, lost and otherwise, a few of the multitudes already living on this coast before the colonists arrived, Native Americans, the man who named Knotts Island, Eleanor Dare’s daughter Agnes, and stones that sing.
Here’s a snippet:
His wife woke again when she heard the trunk open. She got out of the car and walked around to the back. Louis was there, pulling a wire brush out of a toolkit they had back there in the trunk. At his feet on the ground was a dirty brown-ish rock. He gave her a quick look, his eyes shifting away from hers quickly as he bent and picked up the rock and carried it and the brush over to the bank of the river. She stood with her hands on her hips, waiting for him to speak and give her some sort of explanation, but when none came she let her breath out in a whoosh, yanked her purse off the car seat and headed into the woods. Regardless of whatever tomfoolery Louis was up to now, she had to pee. When she came back out of the woods, he was back at the trunk of the car. He’d wrapped the stone in that burlap bag he kept for gathering what he called “specimens” and was placing it carefully in the trunk, making room for it among their one suitcase that they shared, the toolbox, and the other junk he’d picked up on this trip. Well, if he wasn’t going to speak, she was.
“What is that, and what do you think you’re doing with it?”
That glancing look again.
“Can’t look me in the eye, huh?”
Now he turned to look her in the face, his eyes on hers for so long that she almost spoke again before he did. But then he spoke.
“It’s a rock. It’s got some kind of writing on it. I’m taking it because it might have some kind of value, maybe we can find someone who can read the writing. It might be Indian.”
“Louis Hammond, you listen to me. That there rock is a tombstone, and what you’re doing is illegal. You put that rock right back where you found it and let’s get moving.”
“It’s not a gravestone, it’s too small and why would there be a graveyard out here? There’s nothing else out here and there’s no other gravestones.” He slammed the lid of the trunk closed and moved toward the driver’s door and got in. She stared after him for a moment, then went to her side of the car and yanked the door open.
“I’m warning you, Louis, if you take that rock you’re going to be in trouble. If you show it to anyone, they’re going to call the police and you’ll go to jail. And I’ll tell you another thing, I’m not going to get in trouble with you. Do you hear me, Louis?”
She straightened up from settling her purse on the car floor at her feet and looked at Louis. He was just sitting there, staring out the windshield of the car at the river.
“Louis, I said, do you hear me?”
He turned his eyes toward and gave her that long stare again. What is the matter with him? She shivered a little, despite the heat inside the closed car.
“I’m taking the rock and I’m going to find someone who can read it. If you don’t want to do this with me, you can go home, we’ll call your folks next town we get to and get them to cable some money for you to take the train home.”
Now it was her turn to stare at him, her mouth open.
“You would do that? You would send me home and go on without me, over some stupid rock? Why, Louis?”
He looked back at the river and leaned forward to turn the key in the car’s ignition. The car started up but Louis didn’t put it in drive and begin to move. He just sat there, staring at the river.
“Because the rock told me to.”
Now the hard part begins; editing, proofing, formatting…it took us nearly two years to do these things for Parisian by Heart, I hope it won’t take that long for Father We Go.
This post also marks the Fifth Anniversary of this blog. My thanks to my readers who have stuck with me all this time!
Happy Earth Day, everyone!
Ah, it’s so easy to be greenie this time of year, here on the coast of North Carolina. From our gardens and yard we’re eating asparagus, collards, cabbage, lettuce, green onions, poke, lemon balm (pesto!), and the wild spinach is coming up all over. The potato eyes we planted are growing luxurious leaves, and last week we acquired some guinea hens to eat the bugs off of them (and the ticks and any other bugs they can find). Our local organic farm market has opened its fields and stand with strawberries, asparagus, peas and cabbage and lettuce. Soon we’ll be planting our corn, beans and squash garden, and we already have tomato seedlings ready to transplant, along with basil, melons, peppers, tarragon, and leek seedlings. Yes, it’s a good time of year.
But this year’s Earth Day is not a good day for planting, as it is raining steadily and at times hard. The rain is good for the things we’ve planted, though, and for those of us stuck inside, it’s a good day for reading! So here’s my Earth Day reading list, but first, here’s my recipe for lemon balm pesto:
Fresh cut lemon balm
Roasted and salted pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas)
Lemon pepper seasoning, or salt and pepper to taste
Place about 1/4 cup of the pumpkin seeds in a food processor, along with the garlic. I’m using approximate measures because I usually don’t measure, I just eyeball the amounts and taste test it. Process the seeds and garlic until coarsely chopped. Now take your lemon balm and fill up the bowl of your food processor with the leaves (I don’t like to use the stems but you can if you want). Pack the bowl full but not too tightly. Once the bowl is pretty well stuffed, add about 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese on top, and some of the seasoning. Process until the leaves are all chopped up and everything has blended together well. With the processor running, add about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Don’t process too much at this point, or the oil will heat up and cook your pesto into a gluey green ball.
This pesto is great in a salad, on pasta or toasted bread, in scrambled eggs, as a crudite dip- or just eat it out of the jar with a fork. I store the finished pesto in glass jars with tight lids (like canning jars), they keep for months in the freezer and weeks in the refrigerator. Seriously good stuff.
Now here’s my reading list for a rainy Earth Day:
Of course, anything by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Food Rules.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
That’s enough to get started on, so slice up some French bread, toast it a little, drizzle a little olive oil on it and then slather with your lemon balm pesto. Happy reading, happy eating, happy Earth Day.