Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eliezer Sobel and The 99th Monkey

Our guest blogger today is Eliezer Sobel, author of The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments.

Eliezer has provided a great article on why he approaches spirituality in a humorous way.

Lightening Up
By Eliezer Sobel

Author of The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments

I may have approached writing about my spiritual path in a humorous way, but I’ve always been quite serious about the work itself. You don’t spend 40 days alone on a secluded mountain top with no power or plumbing, as I did, on a lark, nor sit in silence and stillness on a meditation cushion for weeks at a time on retreat just for the fun of it. And you don’t spend ten days at Auschwitz for the laughs. There are lots of other things one can do that would be both more fun and funnier. Going to the dentist, for example, can be more fun than confronting your own mind on a meditation retreat.

On the other hand, given that enlightenment means, among other possible definitions, “to lighten up,” it does seem to be a strange juxtaposition to come across a room of grim-faced and determined spiritual practitioners, hell bent on achieving that serene and joyful state of consciousness in which one is not hell bent on achieving anything. Because all the teachings are emphatic that God or enlightenment is always already present in the here and now, so all attempts to achieve something or get anywhere are doomed from the start. So everyone is striving to be free of striving, desiring to be released from desire, attached to letting go of attachment. It’s a maddening paradox, and you can’t get here from there. And that can be a very humorous predicament unless you don’t get the joke. As Wavy Gravy famously put it: “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it just isn’t funny.”

I took my wife Shari to a 7-day silent retreat at a Buddhist center once, where the people had been meditating for years, and she wondered why everyone’s aura seemed gray, and she kept asking herself, “Where’s the joy?” She was part of a more New Agey type of group at the time, people who believed they came from other star systems, listened to channeled readings direct from Quan Yin and so forth, but say what you want about those sorts of far out things, those folks from the other star systems are definitely having a pretty good time here on our planet, exuding a lot of positive energy.

I sometimes talk in a self-deprecating way about how I have utterly failed to get enlightened, but I recently realized I’m actually in very good company. Utter failure on the spiritual path is practically a prerequisite in the Zen tradition. Until you completely fail and give up the search, you are unable to appreciate and grasp what is already present. When you finally get that there was never anywhere to go, at first it is extremely annoying, but eventually it becomes hilarious. Or as one teacher put it, “The truth may set you free, but it will piss you off first.”

About the book: The 99th Monkey is the story of one man’s utter failure to get enlightened, despite over 30 years of trying. Eliezer Sobel invites readers along on what is both a hilarious and astounding journey through the spiritual, New Age and Human Potential movements of the last 35 years, providing an insider’s view that is at once eye-opening, deeply moving, and completely entertaining.

From encounters with enlightened beings, saints and madmen, to ingesting a powerful shamantic brew in the forests of Brazil at all-night ceremonies; from 40-days alone on a mountaintop, to 60 hours in hotel ballrooms at crash courses in consciousness; from the ashrams and gurus of India to the rebbes in Jerusalem and a ten-day Zen retreat at Auschwitz, there were very few extremes to which Sobel did not go in his life-long quest for self-realization. ("Don't even ask about the 'Tush Push,' which was a partner exercise I did during a Human Sexuality Workshop. Or the very obese female therapist who sat on my head for twenty-five minutes at Esalen Institute so I could re-experience being smothered by my mother."

Although he claims to come out at the end feeling pretty much like the same guy as when he started, and while he suggests that bookstores create a new category for his book alongside the Self-Help section to be called "No Help Whatsoever," The 99th Monkey is actually a modern-day hero's journey that contains its own unique blend of wisdom and insight into what it really means to be a human being.

About the author: Eliezer Sobel is also the author of Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken, which was the winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, and Wild Heart Dancing. His short story, Mordecai’s Book, won New Millennium’s First Prize for Fiction, and his articles and stories have appeared in the Village Voice, Tikkun Magazine, Quest Magazine, Yoga Journal, New Age Journal, and numerous other publications. Sobel was the Editor-in-Chief of The New Sun magazine in the 70s and was Publisher and Editor of the Wild Heart Journal more recently. He has led intensive creativity workshops and retreats at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the Open Center in New York City, the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, and Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. Sobel lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife, Shari Cordon, and three cats: Squarcialupi, Peanut and Plum.

THE 99TH MONKEY VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on August 4, 2008 and continue all month. You can visit Eliezer's tour stops at www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com in August!

As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author with a recent release or a $25 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors' blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they come available. One winner will be announced at this blog on August 31!

This virtual book tour has been brought to you by:

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