Sunday, May 11, 2008

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life by Susan Piver

I don’t know when I last read a book with a more inappropriate title than How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life by Susan Piver. I bought the book, with an accompanying cd, on a whim. It probably would have remained unread on my shelf for another year had I not wanted to get rid of some of the books that are cluttering my life and bookshelves. So I dragged this acquisition confident that I would breeze through it and eagerly give it away.

What Piver has done is to write a book on meditation that compares well, if not completely favorably with such authors as Thich Nhat Hanh. Sharing her personal experience, quotes from traditional Buddhist literature, and combining both in to practical advice, she reinforces and drives home the power of meditation. Not as dense as some other books on meditation, the suggestions for developing a personal practice are not so challenging that they could not be learned without the benefit of the cd. At the end of the book she offers a suggestion for a three day spiritual retreat, outlining a plan that goes from Friday evening through Sunday night.

I have often vilified meditation books for their prolonged suggestions of a guided meditation where one first visualizes this and then visualizes that, suggesting that either the practitioner would have to record the meditation for themselves or read along, breaking the flow of the meditation. I don’t see the point of it and I have to offer Piver high praise for sharing meditation practices that are practical. Not unique but without a doubt useful.

Now, before you balk saying you could never afford to get away to go on a retreat for three days, let me point out the Piver’s plan is so practical you can do it in your home. She suggests that even if you don’t live alone you can ask your roommates or family to cooperate with you as you do your spiritual retreat right there in your own home. And if that is seemingly impossible she has other suggestions including asking a friend who is going out of town if you can use their home for the weekend or even renting a cheap motel room for the three days. It is not the surroundings that determine your success in this but your intention. (I will get back to you on how successfully my experience goes sometime in late May because I will be doing a spiritual retreat in my home in a few weeks.)

For those who are not confident about their ability to shut out the world for those three days, who want a little more than constant journaling and silence, Susan Piver has created a mini-retreat kit called Bliss in a Box. I actually bought this on ebay about four or even five years ago. I have never used it and didn’t know that she was responsible for the kit I had but after reading her book I retrieved the boxed kit from my bookshelf and smiled at the ironic serendipity (and the reinforced reminder that I really do need to clean out my bookshelves because I don’t even know what’s there!). The kit comes with guided meditations and some gentle hatha yoga practices, on two cds, along with journaling exercises and even dietary suggestions. The schedule is clear, the cds and journaling prompts (on included cards) all work to support you in your retreat.

However, let me point out that this item is out of print. And since I have not used the Bliss in a Box yet I can’t actually recommend you buy it but if you think the idea of doing a weekend retreat sounds like a lovely experience then absolutely get it before you can’t.

Adding insult to the injury of this review, however, is my adoration and praise for the cd, Freedom From Fear. Apparently you can’t buy this cd except through One Spirit. You can find it used on amazon.com for upwards of $40 and while I love this collection of meditations I can’t say it is worth that much. I would, however, urge you to send me the $9.99 plus whatever the shipping and handling would be and I’ll be happy to order it for you. Two of the three meditations are offered in a longer version (less than 30 minutes) and shorter versions (just over 5 and 10 minutes) while the third meditation is only 10 minutes. The Lovingkindness Meditation should be familiar to anyone who has read about Metta meditation, who have learned to pray the Four Immeasurables:


May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.
Piver combines this meditation with the recommendation I first encountered in Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing, to think first of someone you love deeply, then of someone you like very much, then of someone you don’t know very well, and finally think of someone who has hurt or offended you. Piver leads the listener through these four levels of relationship, meditating on each one with compassion rooted in asking for their happiness, their health, their peace, and their ease. That alone is worth the price of the cd. It is unfortunate that the cd cannot be bought except through a book club but I guess that is the benefit of being a member of One Spirit because you occasionally get access to resources as wonderful as this cd.

My offer is serious. If you want a copy of this cd, I will order it and you can reimburse me for the cost and whatever One Spirit will charge me for shipping.

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