Monday, September 01, 2014


Given that I am one of those weird people who spend a lot of time and effort trying to become a “better person,” I sometimes wonder if anybody else is in that same boat.  If so, they are probably just as confused and frustrated with the fact that self-improvement is so very difficult.  No matter how hard I try to radiate acceptance of all others, of all situations, and that elusive “unconditional love,”
I am plagued with one challenge after another.  Just as I think that maybe I “have it” something or someone comes along and immediately proves that I most certainly “don’t have it!”  Are you with me so far?

I just came upon a wonderful explanation of just why that self-improvement scheme is so hard.  The source for my enlightenment is a surprise, I expect:  the Reader’s Digest!  In the current September 2014 issue an article—“The Beautiful Life of Your Brain” explained it all to me.  The imagery was perfect and easy to understand.  It seems that the brain has evolved over the millions of years that humans have been on Earth.  The author explains it as analogous to ice cream scoops in a cone.  The first “scoop” involved “lower parts like the cerebellum and hypothalamus” that deal with survival behavior like sex and eating.  Lizards have this brain part.  No doubt this is why some brain discussions refer to these brain parts as “reptilian.”  The second “scoop” (which came much later) “involved emotional processing in areas now known as the hippocampus and amygdala.” Mice and other mammals share this with us.  How exciting!  Finally, the most recent addition (“scoop”) to our human brains is the giant, complex cortex, “home of our thoughts and language.” 

Now the key to all of this is that “You can only subtly tweak what was there before and can’t change the basic plan.”  We can only add things to the brain with considerable effort on our part.  With that bit of insight, we begin to see why changing things in our brain is so darn difficult.  We are stuck with what we have been given and must work within that structure.  We also, apparently, need to be exceedingly clever and knowledgeable about what we can add to this set structure, and how to do it.  We are given a clue in the article: “Repeated patterns of thoughts and feelings actually change our brain structure—evidenced by practices such as mindfulness meditation.”  This suggests to us that if we are determined enough to change ourselves for the “better,” it will involve a kind of programming of our brain, consciously and repetitively.  Sounds like a lot of work, but apparently it is the only path to getting beyond the “monkey mind.”  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, the “monkey mind” is that ceaseless chatter in your head that keeps you awake at night and interferes with your concentration on other things during the day.)

The article discusses another stumbling block.  It seems that out brains are hard-wired to focus on negative events, criticisms, and bad news!  One brain expert says,” The brain is like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones.”  This certainly is helpful to know, but also dismaying.   It explains why anything negative or “bad” in our minds sticks like glue and runs in a constant loop over and over and over all day and night—especially in the middle of the night.  Try as hard as you might to erase this awful tape, it persists in repeating itself until you are exhausted.  It is still there the next morning.  It may be a beautiful sunny day, your body is in good shape, everything is O.K. in your world, but the idea of that slips off your plate like the Teflon it is.  The Velcro tape runs on and on and we sabotage ourselves with its repetition.  Then we remember that repetition is the only way to change our brain and we feel frantic because we realize that the repetition of the negative thoughts is burning brand new energy lines into our brain and we aren’t doing anything about it!

Again, we are advised to try to feel positive experiences longer because they “take more time to encode.”  It is wonderful to know this, but ever so difficult to do.  Nevertheless, when we understand how this remarkable brain of ours works, and we learn that only we can make any improvements in our selves, our thinking and behavior processes, we have to face those facts.  We are responsible for ourselves.  Nobody else can do it.

The article ends with a discussion of the importance of meditation.  We find encouragement to practice meditation in a myriad of places today, even the Reader’s Digest.  “Meditation involves metacognition—thinking about thinking, paying attention to attention—which uses the prefrontal cortex” (that’s the newest one).  “Meditation seems to engage the most modern parts of the brain as well as the most ancient ones.”  Most important, “Sitting down, focusing on breathing, and relaxing every day is actually going to build brain structure!” 

Now that this information is sinking in to my brain—slowly because we recall that positive news slips away quickly because of the Teflon effect—I am working on my self-discipline to sit down for one or two meditation sessions each day.  Of course, neither you, nor I, find this easy because our brain is so busy focusing with its Velcro characteristic and thereby spending the day dwelling on every possible negative thought it can find.  Nevertheless, as the article, and many other sources emphasize, repetition of the positive is “good.”  I slowly perceive that self-discipline is the first step.  I must as Peter Pan recommended, “think beautiful thoughts.”  I may not fly to Wonderland as a result, but gradually, ever so gradually, I may begin to glow a bit like Tinkerbell and become a light unto myself (and hopefully, others). 

Are you ready to create your own Wonderland along with me?   All we can do

Is try our best. Who could ask for more?  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Remembering Sara

                                                                  Remembering Sara

Reflections on Building a Dream:  The Sara Smith Story

Gayl Woityra

Some twenty-five years or more ago I met a woman who impressed me so much I have never forgotten her.  At the time I was teaching "Humanities: An Introduction to the Fine Arts" at West Bloomfield High School in Michigan.   I had developed a unit on America’s famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  In a local newspaper, I discovered that a Frank Lloyd Wright home was nearby and occupied by the original owner who would accept tours, especially of students.  I arranged to take a school bus of about 30 of my students to visit the home.  Actually, over the years, we had several visits.

Sara Smith, a widow, was one of the original owners of the home, called “My Haven”.  Her husband, Melvyn Maxwell Smith, held from his teen years the idea that he would own a Frank Lloyd Wright home.  Remarkably, these two public school teachers who at the time each earned $1 an hour,  achieved this dream.  Sara Smith was a memorable person.  My students and I were amazed by her exceptional welcome to her home.  She greeted each person at her door, and shook each person’s hand.   During the tour she told numerous stories of the development of the house, mesmerizing all of us with her wonderful storytelling.  Before we departed, she asked each person to sign her guest book.  My students were so enthralled with the warmth and spirit of Sara Smith, then in her 80s, that I would have to give a little talk on the bus because they all wanted to go back the next day for another visit. 

Warm memories of this wonderful woman have stayed with me over the years.  Recently I happily discovered that a book had been written about Sara Smith’s life and her exceptional husband and home:  Building A Dream:  The Sara Smith Story by Kathryn Watterson (Smith Publishing Group, 1999).  I obtained a copy from a second hand dealer.  Reading it has refreshed my memories, but even more has re-introduced me to one of the most exceptional women I have ever met. It is so very unusual to meet someone who truly lives her philosophy of life.  Reading this book, I discovered why my students fell in love with this elderly woman.  She was the embodiment of love.

Sara Smith was born, as was her husband whom she called Smithy, the child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants to America.  She was active throughout her younger life in her local synagogue.  She and her husband-to-be were both teachers in the synagogue’s Sunday School,  and they were married in the synagogue.  Nevertheless, over the years she acquired an overlay in her spiritual beliefs when she became interested in Christian Science principles.  More and more those principles that today would relate to what is called the “mind-body connection” pervaded her thinking and living.  She would study those ideas of holding positive thoughts of health and wellness and love of all every day for the rest of her life.  More importantly, she lived them, and by her example, inspired all who knew her or met her.

The book about Sara demonstrates how she loved every person she met, and how as a school teacher she would greet each student at her classroom door, welcoming them to the school day with a hand shake.  She would hold intense conversations at parties with anyone, but especially small children who were often ignored in such situations.  She never met anyone she didn’t love.  As a reader, I was constantly amazed throughout the book about Sara that she never wavered in her loving attitude toward everyone and everything.  She only believed in the positive.  She believed that what she imagined could be come reality.  Therefore she always held positive, creative thoughts.  Long before all the current spiritual teachers emphasized “the present moment,” Sara was aware of that philosophy and practiced it.

Each chapter of the book about Sara is preceded with a brief quotation from Sara Smith.  Those quotations are worthy of recognition and daily application.  Probably they are similar to what she would write each day as words of wisdom that she would give to her husband or son to help them have a good day.  She did this for her grandchildren and friends as well.  Throughout her life she counseled hundreds who would call her for advice and comfort.  I want to remember her words as reminders of how to live one’s life.  Therefore I will add them to this little memoir of Sara Smith.  They include a few words from others as well that inspired her.

“God’s plan is a beautiful plan, and it is a plan that blesses everyone.”
                                                --Sara Smith, 1997

“Life is not about what I can get for myself,” says Sara, “but what I can do for my fellow man.”

“Talk to God before you talk to man,” says Sara.

“Love is the key to everything,” says Sara.  “So we must love everyone and everything.”

“I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence,” says Sara.  “There is one plan for each of us, and when we listen and obey these angel thoughts, God will give us the right answer to every problem.”

“In order to find happiness in your surroundings,” says Sara, “you first have to find happiness in yourself.”

“The more we give,” says Sara, “the more we have to give.”

“God takes care of our supply,” says Sara.  “We have nothing to worry about.  Our job is just to listen to God’s voice and obey what he is telling us.”

“Every challenge is an opportunity,” says Sara.  “And our dear Father will show us the solutions for all our challenges.  So we have nothing to worry about.  We never have to be concerned.  All we have to do is to listen, love and obey what we hear.”

“The minute we worry or get upset, “Sara says, “we are not trusting God.”

“I’ve learned that everybody’s wonderful.  God never created evil; he only created good.  We have to accept that everybody is wonderful and perfect.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to see that.  Sometimes we’re challenged.  But if we stick with it, it works.”       --Sara Stein Smith

“Love is not passive,” says Sara.  “Love is reflected in actions—a handshake, a smile, a kind word, a good deed.”

“The only career there is,” says Sara, “is the career of love.”

“If God would grant me a few of the luxuries of life,” said Frank Lloyd Wright, “I could do without the necessities.”

“By intentional destruction of the box as the basis of building, we open the road to a great future architecture.  This secret is not my secret.  It is the age-old philosophy of individuality—the entire core of the creative self, the entire spiritual world, which you may enter only by way of love of it, which is the greatest understanding, after all.  Now, be both patient and wise, and you can’t miss the integrity of this innate, inside thing.  See it operating in nature everywhere.  Go afield.  Go along with or go against your fellow man.  Go anywhere you please with eyes open to see.  Ask this troublesome question, ‘Why?’ And if you have a sincere wish to learn, it’s a kind of prayer.”   --Frank Lloyd Wright

“Gratitude is riches, and we have so much to be grateful for,” says Sara.

“There is no future moment, no past moment, but only this moment right now,” Sara says.  “The thought of knowing that this minute is the only minute I have helps me meet any challenge that might come to my mental household.  For example, if someone has hurt my feelings, if I am thinking, ‘This is the only minute I have—right now,’ then I don’t want to fill that minute with resentment.  I want it filled with joy, peace, happiness and love.  How could I possibly entertain one negative thought?  This is the only minute you have, so make the most of it.”

“When Smithy had an idea, there wasn’t anything that would stop him,” says Sara.  “The minute you have an idea, don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s impossible.’ Know that it’s possible?  If you nurture the idea, you’ll get more ideas that will take care of the first idea—and it will expand from there.  To expand is to progress—and life can become all that much more interesting!”

Sara says, “Promise yourself to be strong so that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.”

“If you would, indeed, behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life, for life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.  In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your secret knowledge of the beyond, and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring.  Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.  . . . For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?  And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless ties that it may rise and expand and seed God unencumbered?  Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing, and when you have reached the mountain top, then shall you begin to climb, and when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
--From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, read at Melvyn Maxwell Smith’s memorial service, August 5, 1984

“By filling your thoughts with good,” says Sara, “you will find there is no room for evil.”

“We never have to be concerned about anything,” says Sara.  “All we have to do is to listen—to listen and love.  Oh, how important loving is.  Never react to error of any kind, because if you do, immediately there is discord.  And there doesn’t have to be discord.  When you meet up with discord, react with love, and before you know it, your enemy will be your best friend.  Isn’t that wonderful?  We don’t have any enemies.  We only have friends and we only express love.”

“Love never dies,” says Sara as she talks about Smith.  “Nothing ever dies.”

“God’s good never runs out.”  Sara Stein Smith, 2000.

Sara’s philosophy: “There is no spiritual error.  In God’s eyes, we are all perfect human beings.  We are perfect and complete.  We reflect eternal life.”

Sara’s response to negativity:  “That’s not the real you speaking.  The real you wouldn’t use words like that.” 

I feel blessed to have met Sara Stein Smith and to have experienced both her exceptional self and the miracle of her beautiful little Usonian home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Learning more about her from Building a Dream, I have been blessed once more by the infusion of her loving ideals and living examples. 

Sara Smith died at age 97 in 2005 in Santa Barbara, California, surrounded by her beloved family.  She is remembered with love by all who ever met her.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thoughts Along the Way: An exploration of why life seems so difficult these days

Rather suddenly the other day a fairly simple thought came to me, one that seems to answer a lot of questions.  It seems to me that most people, to some degree or other, have difficulty dealing with life AS IT IS.  Rather, they long for life AS IT WAS, or at least as they think they remember it, or even as they wish it would be.  Taking this thought one step further, we see that the difficulty begins with our relationship to reality. 

This discussion will approach this idea in as many ways as I can think of.  The idea relates to philosophy, psychology, religion, politics, and everyday living of all sorts.  What my exploration of this idea is leading me to conclude, at least tentatively, is that what we most commonly think are political or religious disagreements are largely the results of our level of dealing with what is versus what we would like things to be.

Although everyone of us has this problem, I have observed that certain groups of people appear to have greater difficulty dealing with “what is,” and others seem to find “what is” not all that troublesome.  I was curious about why that is the case.  Clearly, it is not a matter of intelligence, or education.  My observation is that older people, people from smaller towns, and those with a generally more conservative philosophy, either political, religious, or both, have a greater degree of difficulty in dealing with life today as it is.  Younger people, people from big cities, and those with a more liberal philosophy seem to handle life “as it is” with greater serenity.  There must be a reason for these differences, and they are worth exploring.  We also must repeat here that everybody has some difficulty with dealing with the “now.”

Now that I have mentioned “now,” let’s begin with the writings of numerous psychologists and philosophical writers who have emphasized in contemporary writings the importance of being in the “present moment” and dealing with “now.” (Refer to Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie, Don Miguel Ruiz, and others.)  People who have read these kinds of works are likely to be some of those folks who at least attempt to face the facts of today with some sense of purpose and acceptance.  Perhaps this is just because they have been exposed to the idea of focusing on the present.

Let’s look briefly at that present.  For some reason beyond the understanding of any of us, life on Earth has been in acceleration mode for a number of years.  Everything is moving so quickly.  Styles come and go overnight.  Technology develops so quickly that it is no longer a joke to say that your computer is obsolete the moment you take it out of the box.  Much of technology today is so advanced, the major portion of society can’t cope with it, let alone understand it or comprehend its implications, and heaven help us if any of it needs repair.  Most of my older friends love their computers, largely for e-mail purposes, but have no idea how to deal with even the smallest of computer glitches.  That’s not their fault.  Again, it is the speed of the changes in our world. 

So here we are living in a world that changes constantly, often overnight, and it seems that each day brings new things to absorb, to try to understand, and for many of us, it is more than we can deal with.  The result is that we spend a great amount of energy thinking about “the way it was” and wishing that life would be as simple as it was in years past.  This very human and common reaction manifests in our society in many ways.

Given that we live in a world of constant change, constant challenges, it still might be something we could handle if we didn’t have 24/7 media reports on that very situation.  Anything that happens anywhere in the world immediately turns up on our television screens.  It is difficult to avoid this constant reminder that the world is difficult, changing, and challenging.  Moreover, we don’t just get the news, but we get multiple interpretations and opinionated commentary on every little thing.  The world has always had problems, from the weather to wars, but it is only NOW that we have this distraction constantly shoved in our faces.  If we don’t see it on TV, it pops up on our computer screens.

All of this helps me understand the red/blue maps that appear rather often on television cable commentary shows.  I can’t help but notice that the red states, those in the deep South and the middle of the country are those that largely have small towns.  Conversely, the “blue” states most commonly contain the big cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc.  Now why should this make a difference?

Given that I am one in that “elder” category, I am thinking back to my younger years.  Small towns and usually suburbs of the larger cities were quite homogeneous.  That is, there were at that time few ethnic or racial differences in those places.   Most people looked the same, sounded the same, and if they were churchgoers, attended the same few churches in town.  In high school, for example, most students knew all the other students by name.  When humans are surrounded by “same,” they feel a certain level of security.  The “other” as often discussed by psychologists, is not, in these particular circumstances, very different from oneself.  On the other hand, in the big cities, even in my youth, one would find a much greater diversity of people--ethnic, racial, and religious.  The “different” has always been a problem for human beings.  When someone looks different, sounds different, acts different, it poses a challenge.  Should I fear that person?  Am I safe?  Usually, of course, one is perfectly safe, but psychologically, may not feel safe because life now is not as it was before.

The observations above bring me back to the small town/ big city difference.  People raised in small towns feel safe, often leaving their doors unlocked.  People raised in big cities generally don’t feel as safe, and have multiple locks on their doors.  Nevertheless, the people in big cities grow used to diversity and to some degree it becomes “normal” to them.  People raised in small towns in the past (and perhaps present) aren’t as used to diversity, and the recent changes in those towns with perhaps influx of (legal or illegal) immigrants or refugees from other countries, suddenly pose something new to deal with.  It becomes a challenge.

I could use my own teaching experience as an example.  When I attended high school, as I already noted, the entire student body was quite homogeneous.  But when I taught high school some 20 plus years later, the suburban high school where I taught (in the same metropolitan area where I was raised) had already developed great diversity, with students’ families originating in more than sixty different countries, and all major religions represented in the student body.  Let me say that again:  twenty years! 

Let’s briefly discuss the political philosophy called “Conservative”  I don’t intend this to be a critical discussion, but rather, informative as it relates to our thesis that all of us have trouble relating to “life as it is,” but also that some folks find this even more difficult than the average.  To remain as neutral as possible, I’m taking a definition of “conservative” from the dictionary, which says: “Conservative—disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc. and to agree with gradual rather than abrupt change.”  I find that definition both interesting and insightful.  (And just to set it straight, my personal stand is that we need both Conservative and Liberal parties in our government, and that the whole system works best when they are fairly equal in strength and power.) The definition refers to “preserving existing conditions.”  This is an important part of the conservative philosophy, and it is undeniably important to preserve that which has proven to be useful to the country, or to humans in general.  But by its very wording, it refers to things in the past, or that originated in the past.  There’s nothing “wrong” with that at all.  But this approach reinforces my point that people with a conservative bent are more focused on the past, and therefore have a greater difficulty dealing with the present.  The definition also notes that conservatives can handle change if it is “gradual” rather than “abrupt.”  The problem we have noted about today’s world is that changes are taking places very rapidly in all areas of society:  political, technological, ecological, etc.  There is little disagreement on this particular fact.  Many books have come out in recent years discussing these developments.

The fact of the matter, however, as I see it, is that we live in a world of constant change.  Those changes seem to be accelerating exponentially.  This creates great stresses, especially for those folks who recall or wish for times “as they were,” or to keep those values or life styles that they see as “good.”  This is a very human response.   So the problem isn’t really just a matter of political preferences, or religious beliefs, or even prejudices.  It is quite basic.  ALL of us, again to some degree, have difficulty dealing with LIFE AS IT IS.  Those of us who recall a different experience, whether in our youth or some other experiential area, spend energy wanting our life to be AS IT WAS.  Surely, if we really ponder this idea, we can see that it is quite fruitless to waste our energy in this fashion.  We may not like the changes going on around us.  But most of them are outside of our control.  Fighting what we can’t control is wasted energy. We do, however, have the responsibility and right to express our needs or opinions via voting, letters, and other legal means, or to be proactive in positive, helpful ways.    If this discussion is starting to sound like the notable “Serenity Prayer” I would agree.  Just as a reminder, that little prayer goes as follows:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The strength to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Each of us might find it useful to self examine our approach to life “as it is.”
Are we using life’s challenges, no matter how much they contradict what we would like our life to be, in as positive a manner as we are capable of?  Are we using our talents to be in the present, and perhaps to develop new attitudes toward life as it is?  Only each one of us can make those choices.  If we glue ourselves to a wishful longing for the past, we can never fully function in the present.  To be in the present, to accept “life as it is” even when we don’t like it, gives us the opportunity to be a contributory agent to the world we have been given.

The only way to deal with current situations is to be more pragmatic and alert, attempting to deal with whatever issue comes up in the present moment.  We can’t control what happens “out there.”  We can only change what happens “in here,” that is, inside ourselves.  Gandhi may have said it best:  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

BOOK TALK:  A WHOLE NEW MIND:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

 [6/16/13--I was watching Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday today and I discovered she was showing her old interview with the author Daniel Pink that discussed his book A Whole New Mind.
I recalled that I had written an article about that book at the time she was recommending it.  Given that it is once again turning up on TV, I decided to add it to my blog.  Hope any reader who finds this finds it enlightening.]

I came upon a remarkable book because of Oprah Winfrey.  That shouldn’t be a surprise because we all know that Oprah loves books and isn’t afraid to pass on a good word or two about those she especially likes.  The book is A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2005).  Oprah tells the story herself:  “In June 2008, I was invited to Stanford University to give the commencement address.”  She had just finished reading this book by Daniel Pink and was so impressed that she wanted to share the book with as many people as possible.  And so she “ordered 4,500 copies, one for each student in Stanford’s class of 2008.”  She presented them along with another Oprah favorite book—Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth--as graduation presents.  This story led me to order the book.  Following Oprah’s model, I have also sent a copy to my granddaughter, a 2009 graduate of Michigan State University. 

            This book intrigues me in many ways.  I have been interested in the right-brain/left brain discussions over the years.  The sub-title of the book suggests that “right-brainers will rule the future.”  Early in the book the author explains how our recent society has been largely focused on left-brain thinking:  “linear, sequential, spreadsheet kind of faculties.”  Now, he says, we need more of the right-brain characteristics:  “artistry, empathy, inventiveness, and big-picture thinking.”  Ultimately, of course, the point is to balance the two, using both sides of the brain to our greatest efficiency and thereby having “A Whole New Mind.”

            The author provides a mini-history of mankind’s eras of development.
For thousands of years we lived in an agricultural age.  This involved very hands-on, physical labor.  People largely hunted or grew their own food.  The last 150 years or so, however, have been very different, and the changes along the way have happened faster and faster.  First came the Industrial Age.  With this machine age, our great manufacturing systems developed.  Mass production focused on workers favored for their physical strength and endurance.  That lasted for a while, but following World War II, technology developed automation.  In 30 years or so, the manufacturing lines moved largely from hands-on machines to automated ones, to in current days, largely computer run equipment.  What happened to the workers?  The few workers needed were no longer required to be Herculean.  Even a small woman could press a button or operate a computer.  The work was easily shipped to less expensive sites overseas. 

            This development was linked to what Pink calls the Information Age.
So now, both agriculture and manufacturing are largely a part of computerized, managed operations.  Now the major worker was “the knowledge worker.”  This was still a left-brain directed thinking process.  Daniel Pink notes that “Each year, India’s colleges and universities produce about 350,000 engineering graduates.”
Similarly, they are graduating computer specialists and business students.  Whereas in the U.S. “a typical chip designer earns about $7,000 per month; in India, she earns about $1,000.”  Is it any wonder that so many of these jobs go overseas.  The author’s explanation of how this has all happened is easy to read and understand.  We get a truly clear picture of this transition and why it has occurred.

            All of this leads us to the author’s main point:  that we are now in a very different time.  Manufacturing is largely automated.  Anyone can do it—anywhere in the world.  Computers have linked the world, and educated people, again anywhere in the world, can work with computerized functions.  Where does this leave the American worker?  What is our next step?  In other words, if someone overseas can do it cheaper, and if a computer can do it faster, what does the contemporary worker need to offer that is different and useful?  Pink’s answer is: right-brain directed thinking.  That is what this book is largely about.  He says, “I’ve distilled the answer to six specific high-concept and high-touch aptitudes that have become essential in this new era.  I call these aptitudes “the six senses.”  Design.  Story.  Symphony.  Empathy.  Play.  Meaning.  And it is to helping you understand and master these six aptitudes that I devote the second part of this book.”

            So what we find in this work is about 60 pages of highly interesting, easy reading explaining the basic background to this theory; and then about 200 fascinating and highly useful pages that tell us how to learn more R-Directed thinking.  Each of those six aptitudes develop chapters that both explain and lead the reader to complete understanding.  Each chapter follows the same pattern.
First the author thoroughly explains the concept, making it easy for the reader to grasp the point.  He includes many interesting facts, photos, and stories that make this book easy to read.  The second part of each chapter, he calls a “Portfolio.”  Here the author gets the reader right into the program with all sorts of exercises, things to do, books to read, places to explore, and websites to check-out.  Each chapter offers appropriate sources and ideas to learn how to actually use that particular aptitude.  For example, I ended up with a personal list of books I want to read and websites I want to see. 

            There is so much thoughtful, even fascinating information in each chapter that it is beyond our discussion to include any of that.  Instead, we’ll just briefly review what the author means with those six aptitudes.  “Design” involves more than the usual left-brained “function.”  Pink notes, “Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.”  Just think about how design influences us all.  Don’t we choose a product, or a home because there is something about it that just feels or looks right to us?  That involves design.  And design is largely a right-brained aptitude. 

            Today we hear lots of arguments about everything.  That is largely L-brained.  Pink says that “Story” is becoming more and more important.  “The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.”  Writing narratives and telling stories is largely a R-brained activity. 

            What does he mean by Symphony?  He isn’t talking about music, although music is known to be quite right-brained.  What Daniel Pink means here is “putting the pieces together.”  I recall in previous studies of the right and left brain that the left brain analyzes the pieces.  The right brain sees the whole picture.
Pink says, “What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis—seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.”  Therefore “symphony” refers to a harmony, like a blend of ideas or sounds which portray the “whole picture.”

            Pink notes that logic has been very important in the past, and of course, it continues to be important, but Empathy is also needed.  Logic alone will no longer do.  In this new global society where our co-workers may be somewhere around the globe, or working at home, or come from totally different cultures, “what will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.” 

            The author’s inclusion of “Play” as an important attribute may be surprising.  I guess I am reminded of the old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Pink notes the “Ample evidence [that] points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humor.”  He says, “In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play.”

            Finally, Daniel Pink notes how contemporary society is more and more concerned about Meaning.  In the past the focus may have been on “accumulation,” but we all end up finally asking big questions about the meaning of it all.  The author notes how our material plenty has actually freed us enough from “day-to-day struggles” so that we can “pursue more significant desires:  purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.”  

            The whole point of the book is to bring these six aptitudes to our focus so that we can understand them, learn how to use them, and thereby prepare ourselves to participate in our rapidly changing world and its rapidly changing demands for new ideas.  Does mean that we will forego our left-brain aptitudes?
Daniel Pink assets that “Thinking remains necessary but [is] no longer sufficient.
For the economy of the United States to recover and to regain its position in the world, “We must perform work that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time.”  In other words, we must develop our “Whole New Mind.”  This thought-provoking, but also entertaining book, is a must read for everybody, but especially for all those young folks who are entering the workplace.  This brings us back to Oprah Winfrey and her insight in deciding to present copies of this work to a graduating class from Stanford.  This book will open a lot of eyes to where we are today and how we can become better and stronger as individuals and as a country.  As one reviewer wrote:

“Will give you a new way to look at your work, your talent, your future.”  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Talk:  The Lost Civilization of Lemuria

            In the past fifty years or so the general public has experienced greater interest in myths and legends, especially those stories about ancient places, such as Atlantis.  Multiple theories about Atlantis even appear regularly on cable television.  Little, however, has reached the general discussion table about the other legendary place traditionally located in the area of the Pacific basin—Lemuria, usually referred to as Mu.

            I have always been curious about Mu, especially when I heard that it was quite the opposite of materialistic, technologically focused Atlantis.  Mu’s legends present it as nature oriented and spiritually focused.  I’ve always wanted to know more about Mu, beginning with the paperbacks I read fifty years ago by James Churchward.  [The Lost Continent of Mu (1924); The Children of Mu (1928) and others].  I was delighted to discover The Lost Civilization of Lemuria:  The Rise and Fall of the World’s Oldest Culture by Frank Joseph (Bear and Company, 2006).  Joseph’s book goes far beyond the Churchward volumes in that it contains a plethora of the most current explorations, discoveries, and research of Pacific basin cultures, geology, names, philosophies, and especially myths and stories, all of which lead to only one conclusion:  the existence of an ancient civilization that once flourished across the Pacific Ocean. 

            The data included in this 330-page book is so extensive that it forms a challenge to attempt any summarization.  Nevertheless we begin with a summary the author provides near the end of his work.  He calls it “Two Hundred Thousand Years in 1,000 Words.”  He begins by noting that “Colonel James Churchward learned from monastery records in India that humanity first appeared on islands in the Pacific Ocean about 200,000 years ago. . . . Humankind’s first civilization gradually arose in the Pacific around 50,000 (y.b.p.)  [The author uses “Y.B.P”—years before present—throughout the book to indicate ancient time.]  50,000 years ago is known as the time of lowered sea levels.  “For the next 38,000 years of relative peace . . . Pacific islanders developed the scientific and spiritual arts to a high degree of sophistication, . . . ruled by a god-king, not unlike today’s Dalai Lama.”

            The abundance of evidence provided in this book indicates that Mu was not a continent, and “less a specific geographical territory than a people and culture spread out over many lands from what is now western coastal America, throughout Oceania, to Japan.”  Their “god” was “the sun personified [as] the Compassionate Intelligence that ordered the universe and attached the eternity of the human soul to recurring patterns evidenced in the cycles of nature.”  Lemurians were clearly a sea-going culture that spread this spirituality and developed civilization around the globe.

            What happened to this unique and special civilization?  A series of extreme cataclysms occurred over several thousand years.  These great catastrophes are cataloged all over the world in geologic remnants, tree rings, and especially, major myths in every culture.  Approximately 12,000 years ago the last ice age ended, resulting in extreme increases in sea levels.  This scientific fact is reflected in world-wide myths about a Great Flood.  Mu was located mostly in low-lying tropical areas; hence its lands were “most severely affected, some slipping beneath the sea.”  It was at this time that large migrations took place as the inhabitants of Mu moved in all directions to safer areas in North and South America, Japan, and southern Asia.

            The next major cause of world-wide disaster was in 3100 B.C. when “the Comet Eneke passed near the Earth.”  Apparently this cometary approach was also the cause of the disasters associated with the legendary Atlantis.  This book also provides evidence that Atlantis is likely to have been a Lemurian settlement.  What is most fascinating are the suggestions of how and why the Lemurians and Atlanteans became so opposite in character:  the Lemurians in harmony with spirituality and nature, and the Atlanteans focused on materialistic forces.

            The same Comet Eneke “returned less than 1,000 years later to unloose a bombardment of meteoric material.”  Stories reflecting this exist all over the world, as well.  The author provides a myriad of examples throughout this book.  He also notes that records in Tibet indicate that in 1917 B.C., “the missionary Miwoche brought Lemurian spiritual teachings to the Himalayas, where they became the fundamental principles of Tibetan Buddhism.”  A few hundred years later in 1628 B.C., “major volcanism and violent seismicity. . . . afflicted the south-central Pacific.  Most of the lands of Mu dropped beneath the sea or were depopulated by 100-foot tsunamis.”  Again, stores of these calamities fill the traditional rites and traditions of all peoples around the Pacific rim.

            Given all of this, one wonders at first why we haven’t heard more of this before now.  Explanations are fairly simple.  Nothing much had been written, or known, about Mu until 1926 when Colonel James Churchward published the first of his books on Mu, “based on a translation of ancient tablets in India purporting to describe the drowned civilization.”  It was only many years later, in post World War II when academic researchers in the Pacific Basin began to make one after another significant discoveries of underwater remnants of “sunken structures” off the shores of Japan, Taiwan, Pohnpei, Fiji, Peru, and North America.”  It is these new discoveries, along with new research by anthropologists, meteorologists, seimologists, geologists, and philologists, that Frank Joseph discusses in The Lost Civilization of Lemuria.  As such, these explorations and discoveries
clearly corroborate the stories of Lemuria  and its ultimate demise.  Given that this 300+ page book provides such a broad spectrum of evidence leading to reasonable deductions, it is impossible to do more than touch upon a few in this book discussion. 

            Author Frank Joseph introduces a few fascinating assertions and facts in his introduction.  The first surprise is that the Lemurian people were blond and red-haired.  Various chapters provide extensive support for this fact in that hundreds of legends throughout the Pacific region refer to the ancient ones as blond or red-haired.  Scientific corroboration comes from finds all around the Pacific rim of mummified bodies identified as ancient with red or blond hair.  Next he notes pervading evidence that skills and knowledge traditionally brought to ancient groups in the Americas largely came from west to east, and in Asia from east to west.  This, of course, strongly imply the source as the Pacific basin.  The author refers to the controversial author Immanuel Velikovsky who in his works [see Worlds in Collision, and Earth in Upheaval] referred to many of the folk tales of the world as well as evidences of major catastrophes in past millennia.  In his introduction and main text Joseph refers as well to huge numbers of linguistic links to Mu that still exist around the world.

            The author also notes in his introduction his “primary conclusions,” ones that emphasize the significance of Mu in relation to current evidence.  Briefly, these conclusions are:
  • that Mu did exist in the ancient past.
  • that it was the first major civilization—“the Garden of Eden”
  • that Lemurians had an extremely high level technology
  • that the Mu people suffered a series of extreme catastrophes
  • that their mystical principles influenced some of the world’s major religions.

Clearly, author Frank Joseph achieves the intention of his investigation of Lemuria:  that is, “to assemble [the] best and latest proof on behalf of Lemuria as a real place in time, inhabited by a great people whose spiritual achievement is humankind’s most priceless legacy.”  His first main chapter is a perfect example of how recent academic research, studies of remote structures, some underwater, in the Pacific reveal an almost science fiction-like technology in the distant past.  His detailed discussion of Nan Madol, a series of “rectangular islands and colossal towers” built on a coral reef only five feet above sea level, is astounding.  Nan Madol is located “in a remote corner of the western Pacific Ocean, nearly 1,000 miles north of New Guinea and 2,300 miles south of Japan.

            An astonishing inference can be drawn from the myriad of measurements, placements, materials, and intricate details of Nan Madol.  Central to the site are millions of tons of magnetized basalt, “one of the heaviest, hardest rocks on Earth.”  Moreover, Japanese researchers discovered a collection of “eight-foot-long ‘coffins’ made of platinum,” a rare mineral existing naturally only some 2,200 miles distant.  Combinations of magnetized basalt and platinum can “amplilfy a piezioelectic discharge.”

            All this information suggests a superior ancient technology, but for what purpose?  Meterologists have determined that Pacific typhoons originate within 300 miles of Nan Madol and “its identical companion Insaru.”  Here’s the insight:  meterologists now know that “dangerous weather phenomena can be mitigated or even prevented in early stages of development by somehow diffusing the electromagnetic core of a hurricane before it gains strength.”  We then learn that this technique is related to discoveries by the late genius inventor, Nikola Tesla.  Is it possible, the author asks, that the ancient Lemurians knew a technique to stop, or modify,  hurricanes?  That seems to be one reasonable conclusion.

            Similar discussions continue in the book ranging from new information about Easter Island to the Indus Valley to cultural stories throughout the Pacific..  One chapter deals just with “Ancient Oceanic Technology.”  Another touches on Hawaii’s history and legends.  Alaska, British Columbia, and the Southwest United States reveal more relevant stories and remnants of culture that connect to Mu.  The author even provides a highly reasonable explanation of the famous Nazca lines and figures.  Much of Asia has apparent connections to Lemuria as well, in rituals, legends, and language (words and names), structures and customs.  Philological evidence is especially important to determine influences of cultures from the distant past.  Names around the world contain the root “mu” or other root words associated with Lemuria.

            One may ask, why is all this new information about a long-gone civilization important?  Can this knowledge benefit us today?  The answer is a huge “yes”!  Today we live in a world driven by political, economic, and military agendas,” magnified by a disconnect to any spiritual meaning and compassion for fellow human beings, especially if they are not “like us.”  Modern civilizations largely see the Earth as an outdoor WalMart, just there to supply our every need and open for all exploitation.  Greed is a keyword.  And yet we long for a better world and world peace.

            Lemuria was the philosophical opposite to the later Atlantis and to our world today.  Their God was seen as a “Compassionate Intelligence . . . found in the sum total of existence; everything and everyone was considered a part of God.  That accepted, their duty and fulfillment lay in cooperating with nature and their fellow humans.”  The author notes that the struggle in Atlantis, characterized by the famed Edgar Cayce as “conflict between the materialistic Sons of Belial and the monotheistic Followers of the Law of One . . . is now replayed in America between the likes of Enron Capitalists and evangelical fundamentalists.”  He emphasizes that “Atlanteans were [originally] Lemurians.”  He notes that “resemblances between our time and theirs are numerous enough to invite comparisons.”

            Clearly we today can learn much from the story and principles of Mu.  How do we want our world to be?  Full of conflict and lacking compassion to our fellow humans?  Or would we choose a world of peace and brotherhood, one centered in love and respect for the entirety of Creation?  The Lemurians knew only one commandment, from which all their metaphysical musings flowed:  ‘Be kind!’  And only one sin that spawned all others:  cruelty.”  Author Frank Joseph concludes:  “The time has come for us to return to [the philosophical principles of] Lemuria,” and readers like me would agree.  Indeed, this book is enlightening in endless ways!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Talk: ATLANTIS AND 2012

Atlantis and 2012

Book Talk by Gayl Woityra

What possible connection might we discover between the current concern about the Mayan Calendar, 2012, and the psychic readings by the American “seer,” Edgar Cayce? In his newest book, Atlantis and 2012 (Bear & Company, 2010), author Frank Joseph presents insightful observations about numerous connections between the lost, ancient civilizations often referenced by Cayce in his readings and the prophecies of the Maya and other ancient cultures around the world. Readers interested in the Mayan Calendar and Edgar Cayce will enjoy this book.

Joseph’s introductory chapter sets the historical basis for all further discussions in the book. He acknowledges the current concern with the “catastrophic scenario popularly associated with this soon-to-be experienced incident [of December 21, 2012].” Further chapters provide related details. He also explains the astronomical facts of the date that terminates the Mayan Calendar. “In the late morning of December 21, 2012, the ecliptic (the sun’s apparent path across the sky) will intersect with the galactic ecliptic (the projection of the Milky Way’s disc on the sky) to place the Sun at the very center, in the crosshairs between the solar path and that of our galaxy, when the Sun is one degree above the horizon at the equator (73 degrees West).”

Now, from the perspective of us on Earth, this event happens “only once every 26,000 years.” So what does this mean, or portend? That is where much disagreement currently occurs. Author Joseph begins his exploration of possibilities with other historical and pre-historical data. “The first day of the [Mayan] calendar’s Long Count began in 3114 B.C.” Joseph notes some intriguing parallel dates. “The first Egyptian dynasty was inaugurated around 3100 B.C.” He begins, as well, to note various similarities between the Egyptian and Mesoamerican cultures. More importantly, he says, “Their similarities suggest an outside source that independently affected both.” This leads to ancient prehistory and the legends of Atlantis and Lemuria, thereby setting up the first connection to Edgar Cayce and his psychic readings about those legendary places. Further chapters in the book provide the details, often based on new scientific and archaeological discoveries.

Chapter One focuses on Greek philosopher Plato’s account of Atlantis. Several points become important. The author reflects on a point that Plato makes, one that the author and Edgar Cayce will both emphasize, and that is the cause of the destruction of Atlantis and its relation to a lesson for humanity today. Plato makes the point that “human societies begin to self-destruct when their citizens no longer regard organic relationships between the spiritual and the material spheres of existence.” Ultimately, “the consequences of cosmic disharmony reveal themselves in physical destruction.”

The author presents other interesting facts, many quite new. The Egyptian term for “Atlantis” was “Etelenty.” A recent (2001) translation of “Etelenty” means “the land that has been divided and submerged by water.” Anyone who studies world mythology will also learn that every culture in the world has a flood myth. New discoveries (1967) have found “elephant teeth from 40 different underwater locations along the Azores-Gibraltar Ridge” and these finds validate Plato’s placement of Atlantis at that location.

The next few chapters deal with other aspects of Atlantis, supported by linguistic analyses, known history, comparative symbols, and sacred numbers. Then connections between Atlantis and Mesoamerica begin to develop. One of the most amazing is a comparison of two carvings, one a fifth-century B.C. statue of Atlas from the Athenian Parthenon and part of the “Elgin Marbles” in the British Museum, and a relief carving inside the Temple of the Bearded Man at Chichen Itza’s Ball Court in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. They are nearly identical! How could this be?

Mayan deities similar to the Greek god Atlas “were believed to have come to Chichen Itza just after a world-class deluge destroyed their capital across the sea . . . a homeland described as ‘the Red and Black Land,’” matching Plato’s “description of the red (tufa) and black (lava) natural formations on the island of Atlantis.” The author presents example after example of parallels and connections between these two locations. He also builds a case for repeated cataclysms on the Earth as he references many new conclusions from recent research. For example, “A consensus of scientific opinion at Britain’s Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge during the summer of 1997, found that our planet had been subjected to a set of celestial bombardments beginning more than 5,000 years ago.” If we get out our calculators, we just might notice that 2000 (2011) plus 3100 (3114) adds up to approximately 5,000 years! The author presents evidence from cultures around the Earth, all of which have records of various cataclysms at nearly identical times. Amongst all such data, we find that a message prevails: “the delicate balance between [mankind’s] behavior and cosmic judgment.”

Further chapters in Part One of the book focus on various factors related to 2012. The author notes that the Maya believed that “coming events were foreshadowed in the past,” something that modern people might identify as natural cycles. Consequently, Joseph discusses how the Maya documented observations of past events, as did many native cultures around the world. He includes, as well, much current scientific research, such as the cyclic nature of ice ages. Russian researchers at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences predict a “little ice age . . .by the mid 21st century.” Scientists in India predict “increasing volcanoes, tectonic movements, earthquakes and landslides.” Geophysicists at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences are concerned “that a super solar storm could catastrophically effect our world during 2012.”

Certainly all the data available about cataclysms of long ago and the potential for similar events in the present times, is enough to cause great concern. Within the context of Frank Joseph’s book, the discussion leads very naturally to the second half of his work entitled, “The Seer.”

The “seer” is, of course, Edgar Cayce, often called the “Sleeping Prophet” because all of his “readings” came from a deep trance-state. Most of his early “readings” involved medical diagnoses for thousands of clients.” All of his readings were stenographically recorded, and they have been thoroughly studied and researched by medical doctors over many years. Cayce has sometimes been called “the father of alternative medicine.” Later, in the 1920’s Cayce began to give “life readings” that involved “past lives,” sometimes from the time of the legendary Atlantis and Lemuria. He did 14,256 life readings for some 8,000 clients over a 43-year period. Edgar Cayce died in 1945.

A good part of Frank Joseph’s chapters on Edgar Cayce apply research and discoveries that evolved in the years following Cayce’s death, all of which corroborate and bring further light to his “readings” and predictions. For example, Cayce discussed the Essenes many years before the discovery of the Qumran community remains. Cayce said in a 1930’s reading that the Nile River flowed across the Sahara Desert to the ocean in Atlantean times. In 1994 a satellite survey confirmed that a former tributary of the Nile “connected Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean at Morocco.”

One part of Cayce’s story of Atlantis was considered complete fantasy for many years. He claimed that Atlantis had a high level of technology, especially involving the use of quartz crystal electronic technology. “None of this made scientific sense in the 1930s . . . until the advent of the crystalline silicon chip nearly 50 years later.” This, of course, was the technology that led to our current computer age. Cayce also predicted a “super cosmic ray that will be found in the next twenty years.” Then “lasers were invented [or reinvented] around 1960.”

The author also discusses the fascinating folk history of the Americas where nearly every native group’s folk memories “are replete with [stories] also describing the arrival of flood survivors from both Mu [Lemuria] and Atlantis.” One story, of special interest to me (who has Cornish copper mine engineer ancestors) is of pre-historic mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Plato had described the Atlanteans as “great miners and metal-smiths.” Their specialty was a superior bronze called orichalcum. Until last year I had never heard of “America’s greatest archaeological enigma: the excavation of at least half a billion pounds of copper ore in a stupendous mining enterprise that began suddenly in the Upper Great Lakes region of the Michigan peninsula about 5,000 years ago. . . . Menomonee Indian tradition remembers [the miners] as the Marine Men, white-skinned bearded foreigners who sailed out of the East.”

Cayce’s readings about the long-lost Atlantis tell of two rival factions from that time: the Children of the Laws of One who honored natural law, emphasizing healing and spiritual values, opposed by the Sons of Belial who “were interested in using natural resources only for their own material gain.” Thematic to both Plato and Cayce is the idea that the destruction of Atlantis was precipitated by greed and misuse of technology. Author Frank Joseph emphasizes that the story of Atlantis uncannily resembles “the present condition of world civilization.”

Frank Joseph’s Atlantis and 2010: The Science of the Lost Civilization and the Prophecies of the Maya presents thoughtful insights to readers. Much easier to read than many of the rather technical books on the Mayan Calendar, this work provides much food for thought for readers concerned about 2012. Moreover, it delights fans of Edgar Cayce with its many corroborating results from recent studies and explorations. The author’s idea to coordinate a discussion of the Mayan Calendar, 2010, and Edgar Cayce results in a fascinating book for readers.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Talk: Testimony of Light

BOOK TALK: Testimony of Light

Perhaps it is a truism that most humans, out of fear, either avoid thinking about death and the hereafter, or spend much time searching for answers about that very subject. As we age in our Earthly lives, the topic becomes more and more intriguing when we ponder what may be in our immediate or near future. Fortunately, various authors have provided resources that prove helpful to at least some of us. We find some answers in books by talented mediums, such as James Van Praagh in Unfinished Business (Harper-Collins, 2009). The books by psychotherapist Michael Newton, Ph.D.—Journey of Souls (Llewellyn, 1994) and Destiny of Souls (Llewellyn, 2002), provide many insights into the after-life.

I was especially delighted, however, to discover another remarkable work, recommended by a friend: Testimony of Light: An Extraordinary Message of Life After Death by Helen Greaves (Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, New York 2009). This unique work, originally published in Great Britain by the [Anglican] Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies in 1969, has been in print for some forty years, but I had never heard of it—perhaps because it wasn’t published in the U.S. until more recently. Now, however, I have come to treasure this easy to read, instructive and intriguing volume.

Most books about the afterlife are either mediumistic reports or articles from psychotherapists who discuss the experiences of various clients. Never, until this book, have I read a day-to-day report of one person’s experiences after death over a period of two years in Earth time. This work is truly unique, intense, and inspirational.

The book begins with a brief synopsis of the life of Frances Banks, an English woman who spent 25 years as a nun in the Anglican Church, much of her time as Sister Frances Mary of the Community of the Resurrection in Grahamstown, South Africa. Besides serving as Principal of the Teachers’ Training School College, she earned an M.A. in Psychology and was “author of many books on psychology.” Later in life she left the order to explore the psychic and spiritual in the Anglican Church’s Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies, a group that has “helped countless people integrate their psychic experiences within a fully orthodox Christian faith.” At that time she met Helen Greaves, an author, and “for the last eight years of her life [they] worked together psychically and spiritually.” Helen’s first impression of Frances Banks was “that this was a woman of tremendous force of character and tremendous willpower.” They worked together until Frances died of cancer on November 2, 1965.

The book begins with Helen’s description of Frances’ last days and her death. Then it quickly moves to a re-establishment of the previously strong telepathic link between the two women. Helen became aware at first of “a Presence” about three weeks after Frances’ death. Then some days later she felt the telepathic link with Frances’ mind impinge on her own. It became apparent that it was Frances’ intention to dictate the story of her after death experiences to and through her friend, Helen Greaves. Helen reports, “Now that she was evidently restored to consciousness and awareness after the change into her new life, the first burning desire would be to make known all that was happening [and] to send back at first hand.” For Helen, ”It was almost as though I took dictation.” Apparently, this activity was not just the desire of Frances to tell her story, but as she explained later, she was “under the inspiration of a group, or band, for this transmitting of her impressions of the Life Beyond to be translated into a book.” We may infer from this that some entities in the after world wanted to send this information back to humans on Earth as a helpful service to them. This idea of service to others is a major theme throughout the book.

And so the dictation to Helen began on December 5, 1965, and continued on a fairly regular basis for the next two years. From this process we, the readers, have an intense description of the day-to-day, week-to-week progress of Frances’ experiences and journey in the afterlife. In every case we find her experiences fascinating, inspiring, and consoling.

In order to gain all the insights and information about the afterlife as shared by Frances, one needs to read the entire book. That is an easy task as it is only 160 pages in length. But we can discuss some of the major themes that are explored in this delightful work:
1) The newly transitioned individuals receive appropriate healing while they become accustomed to the changes in their consciousness.
2) As they settle in, they move to their appropriate place in the spiritual world.
3) One moves forward spiritually through service to others.
4) Everyone belongs to a Group, actually many different kinds of groups.
5) The extent of Life after Life is endless.

Probably most people wonder, “What will happen to ‘me’ when I die?”
The story of Frances is very reassuring. Every individual who crosses over—with a few exceptions explained in the book—will receive immediate, kind, loving care. Frances “wakes up” in a kind of “rest home” run “by the Sisters of the community to which [she] belonged when in incarnation, and under the care of her former Mother Superior Florence and Anglican priest, Father Joseph. She needed some time to recuperate from her illness. She learns that “Souls are brought here from earth and from other places. . . . They are ‘nursed’ and taken care of here, as am I.”

We learn from Frances’ reports to and through author Helen Greaves that individuals come and go after different intervals. This portion of the book is intensely interesting as we meet the various individuals who pass through the “rest home hospital.” Each is cared for in relation to their needs. Some stay for relatively short periods and others remain for a long time. Frances tries to explain how time doesn’t really exist in the afterlife, but she needs to use those terms to explain processes to readers.

As Frances adjusts to the energies and different consciousness there, she feels “great joy to learn that one can still exercise one’s skills in this new life.” She chooses to help out at the rest home and to use her teaching and tutoring skills. Each day she learns more and more. She says the early days are “a stretching of the mind period.” She is still “herself” but she now views her problems and hopes “from an entirely different angle and with far greater dawning comprehension.”

Many students of metaphysics have heard of the “life review,” that intense reviewing of one’s Earthly life in order to perceive what one did “right” or “wrong.” Frances notes: “There is no compulsion . . . to review one’s past life on earth as soon as one arrives. . . . Some take a long time to tackle the problem.” She does report her own shock when she starts to review her life: “a true humbling of yourself to find that you did so little when you would have done so much; that you went wrong so often when you were sure you were right.”

The various “patients” that pass through the rest home provide learning experiences for both Frances and the readers of the book. They range from Doctor X, who believed his life to have been a failure, but who had actually achieved much and was an old, advanced soul—to a man who had been a Nazi leader who had committed suicide. He had been “rescued” from where he had been “wandering in the lower places, imprisoned by his own evil.” Frances says, “He has come to us to be healed.” He will spend a long time in a kind of sleep state. Another lovely temporary visit in the rest home is a young child who quickly moves on to join family members.

And so we learn through Frances’ experiences that every individual has an appropriate place in the afterlife, a place of great love and comfort. We also learn that each one has many opportunities to learn and evolve spiritually in order to progress to higher and higher spiritual levels. Often this progress involves various kinds of service to others, often utilizing one’s already developed talents and skills. Frances reports that “bit by bit, we move away from earth ideas and limitations, and advance more into Light and Wisdom.”

Frances learns, with some humility and dismay, that one cannot leap up to high spiritual levels of vibration in one jump. It is a gradual, step-by-step process that one moves through; each step of advancement must be earned. She reports, “The Planes of the Spirit stretch onward into infinity. . . . You can’t push yourself into heavens beyond you; the Law of Progression is exact.” In the afterlife “the newly transported soul graduates always to the rightful place it has earned and prepared.” Gradually, with each experience Frances has, she grows in understanding. She says, “We have to learn to live in this new frequency; to guard the doors of one’s mind. . . . Here the thought-pattern is determinate of one’s welfare, one’s progress, one’s happiness and joy. . . . Every soul must assimilate the Way before proceeding onward into planes of even higher frequencies.”

Frances continues to teach and learn. She works with many who arrive expecting to find what Frances terms “a super Welfare State,” a “heaven of utter delight” in which “no efforts would ever be needed by them.” Many expect to rest “in the arms of Jesus.” Now Frances had spent much of her earthly life within a Christian religious organization. But here she has learned that “Lord Jesus lives in a Plane far beyond this [where she is]. Moreover she has learned that “no soul coming here from earth’s limitations, however advanced it may be in spiritual truth, is able to stand the stepped-up vibrations or the translucent Light of these High Planes. . . . One has to earn every step of advancement.”

Over time Frances comes to comprehend the importance of Groups. She sees that “Our ‘patients’ stay with us until they have adjusted to this new life and are ready to join their dear ones or their Special Groups.” She notes how on Earth individuality tends to be emphasized and society has largely down-played the significance of Groups. She says, “We are, to my limited knowledge, all members not of one Group, but of many, and the many make up the Great Group or the Great Soul Being in which we live and move and have our being.”

She then identifies some of the Groups to which we belong. First “we belong to a Family Group.” The next Groups are “Groups of interest,” such as “the arts, music, education, social sciences and social service.” When souls arrive in the afterlife and “have cleared the receiving houses [like the rest home where Frances serves], they pass on to, first, the Family and then later to the Special Group of their interests.” There are groups at higher levels that Frances equates to “advanced classes in a university.” Those Groups are guided by “great Beings [who] watch over the progress of their cell-like clusters of souls.” Beyond these Groups are other Greater Groups. “All is progress. . . . Life is a continuing Path towards one’s particular Group.”

This unique, remarkable little book provides readers with endless insight and inspiration. Each page is so rich that it is impossible in a book discussion such as this to do more than just touch upon a few of its treasures. I have read it twice and intend to repeat it again and again. No one can fear Death after reading this book. The same goes for Life on Earth because the book shows how here we also have opportunities to learn and grow in ways that we can continue to utilize in the after life. There is no end to the All that Is.

A good way to conclude our journey through Helen Greaves’ and Frances Banks’ Testimony of Light is to note just a few words of wisdom that touch our soul in this book. Frances summarizes the “message which we want to put across” in this work:
1) There should be no fear of death, for the death of the body is but a gentle passing to a much freer life.
2) That all Life is lived as a serial, that we go from one experience of living to another experience of living at a different rate, i.e., on a higher level of awareness.
3) That much of what we thought praiseworthy on earth is mediocre to us in the Light of wider knowledge, and conversely much for which we blamed ourselves and were blamed by others, is viewed here from a wider angle and even becomes merit!

This wonderful book assures us that “all is order, advancement, progress. And all is Unity.”