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Book Review: “Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me” by Raji Lukkoor

with His Holiness S. N. Goenka

A young woman’s yearning for inner peace is about to be realized–at a trip to the woods to unlock the secrets of the ever-thinking mind. Hosted by spiritual master S. N. Goenka, a ten-day vipassana meditation retreat that she attends irrevocably alters her perspective…and her future. Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me is a comprehensive, moment-by-moment description of the author’s ten-day vipassana meditation retreat. The story unfolds with her arrival at the retreat as an ordinary citizen seeking a calmer, more centered existence. Sacrificing every luxury and self-indulgence, and following a rigid daily routine that excludes reading, writing, praying, listening to music, watching TV, and talking, the author spends ten hours every day, meditating.  Inner Pilgrimage provides rich imagery and clearly articulated details of the author’s physical experience and her mental & emotional states, during sustained meditation. It provides a compelling insight into her experience of discovering the realm and rewards of vipassana meditation. (from Goodreads) 

Raji Lukkoor’s experience on a vipassana meditation retreat inspired her to craft the book:  “Inner Pilgrimage:  Ten Days to a Mindful Me”.  I was immediately drawn to the words in the title:  “Inner Pilgrimage”, “Mindful Me”.   The words conveyed a feeling of calm and serenity, along with a desire to discover self. 

Vipassana meditation, also known as insight meditation, is a journey of personal awareness that can transform the quality of our lives.  And this book is about one person’s journey with vipassana meditation, as experienced on a ten day retreat. 

This vipassana meditation retreat consisted of ten hours of silent and motionless meditation, every day, for ten days in a row.  As a participant, Raji Lukkoor, the book’s author, spent that meditative time sitting cross-legged, (the typical meditation pose), with pillows propped under her knees and ultimately ignoring all sensory experience outside of her body.  There were teaching sessions, via DVD, that spoke to the proper ways of meditating, and breathing as a whole body experience.  This particular vipassana retreat is styled using the methods in the tradition of S.N. Goenka, a vipassana spiritual master, of the Buddhist tradition. 

Raji describes the location of the retreat as being in the middle of nowhere, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, U.S.A.  The accommodations are quite sparse – gender-segregated group cottages, with heat and lighting, beds, bedding, bathrooms and showers.  No access to the outside world, no reading material, no journal writing.  And the first thing Raji had to consider was locating a place to sleep.  I identified with Raji’s determination to find a place where she would be comfortable to sleep for ten days.  I have never attended a vipassana meditation retreat, but I have attended other types of silent retreats, all of various durations.  Getting ‘settled’ and feeling comfortable in the sleeping area is very important.  What is new to me is the requirement to remain motionless for ten hours of active meditation.  It intrigues me, but I am not sure I would have Raji’s stamina! If you connected the lack of writing supplies on the retreat, to the writing of this book, you will realize that Raji Lukkoor wrote this book based on her memory and experience of those ten days – and that I find remarkable.  To me that means that this retreat made such a deep impression on Raji, had such meaning in her life, she was able to write about it many days after its end. And not just a re-telling of the events of those ten days. 

Raji Lukkoor

Raji Lukkoor was able to step back in time, to the first day of her vipassana meditation retreat, and bring us, the reader, along for the journey.  We travelled with her as she settled herself in her sleeping area, and checked the bath and shower accommodations.  We joined her negative and positive reactions to the dietary rules and conditions.  As Raji struggled to learn vipassana meditation, we captured the moments with her.  The seating challenges, the physical wins and the physical losses. Lukkoor’s detail focused, sharp engineer’s mind, plus her gifts as a writer brought the reader directly into the centre of the retreat.  We see the balance tip between the whole experience as overwhelming, and the whole experience as life-changing.  As the book comes to conclusion, Raji excitedly travels home bringing with her new spiritual skills to use in her everyday life.  A life in which, she feels more aware and more authentic. 

This book is not an answer to all questions about vipassana, nor is it an instructional manual.  It is one person’s experience.  Within the book, Raji does point us in a direction that will give us additional information and assistance, should we choose to study vipassana meditation more extensively.  Belonging to the Buddhist tradition is not necessary, in order to experience vipassana.  Raji herself had no Buddhist background. 

This is among the best inspirational books that I have read.  I was inspired by Raji Lukkoor’s personal spiritual journey.  I was inspired by this new-to-me form of meditation.  And I was inspired to sincerely look where in my life, I can move from restlessness to calm, from cloudiness to clarity. 

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For me, the Joy of the Written Word is written throughout “Inner Pilgrimage:  Ten Days to a Mindful Me” by Raji Lukkoor. 

Choose Joy! 

Patricia

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Book Review: “Mary Jane” – Dorothy Sterling

One of my favourite memories from elementary school is the Scholastic Book Catalogue!!! Do you remember that Catalogue? In my school we started to receive the catalogue in Grade 4. It was the first place I actually purchased books!! It was so exciting! I can remember pouring over the catalogue, reading the descriptions of all the books, and seeing how much they cost! As you can imagine, my parents had a slight cap on how much I could spend, at times bending the rules when I could not decide between titles. I filled in the order form, gave it to my teacher, and waited. Waited for the arrival of THE BOOKS!! When the day came, I would come back to my desk after recess, and there they would be – a neat little pile on my desk. Oh, my! That was thrilling!

For the most part, I still have my Scholastic books, which proudly occupy a shelf in my ‘book room’! My all time favourite Scholastic book and actually I would say it is still my all time favourite book, was and is “Mary Jane” by Dorothy Sterling. I purchased it in Grade 5. The lead character is Mary Jane Douglas, who lives in High Ridge, in the southern United States. The book is set in the early days of integration; Mary Jane is a black American – who has decided to go to what was an all white high school – Wilson High – simply because it was the best high school in town. Integration had just started and Mary Jane, and her friend Fred Jackson, were the first, and the only, black students starting at the high school, junior level.

After Mary Jane has spent the summer on her Grandfather’s farm, she returns home to find her mother talking about getting ready for high school. Mary Jane’s Mother is putting more excitement in this new year, than ever before! Mary Jane is overwhelmed by her Mother’s purchases: new clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even a new ‘big’ bed.

On the first day of school, Mary Jane and Fred are escorted by their fathers, right into the door of the school. To get to that door Mary Jane, Fred, and their fathers must go through a large crowd of white protestors – they even have a police escort. The crowd is filled with angry townspeople, neighbours, students, and parents, and is a startling experience for Mary Jane.

Mary Jane does not really understand what the problem is – she is simply starting high school! All around Mary Jane, other characters in the book, especially in the first half of the book, frequently speak about “they”: ‘they won’t like this’, ‘they have rules’, ‘what will they say’ and ‘what will they do’? This puzzles Mary Jane, who really cannot understand what the fuss is about and cannot figure out who are ‘they’?

Mary Jane faces discrimination, taunts, and physical hurts; but that does not stop her. When shunned in the lunch room, she calmly sits alone. When hurtful words and hurtful names are thrown at her – she forges ahead; learning new subjects, completing projects, she is befriended by one fellow classmate, two teachers, and eventually entering a Science Fair with trained white mice. Mary Jane even becomes part of a Junior Science Club, where she meets students who do not care about the colour of her skin – a happy experience for Mary Jane.

A typical first year high school student, Mary Jane does get mischievous, visits the science room after school is over, hides a squirrel named Furry, and hides secrets from her parents. The book ends just as the Science Fair is getting underway, and although the mice act as they were trained, whether or not Mary Jane wins a prize, is left to the reader’s imagination.

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I just re-read this book about a month ago and it held my interest as much now as it did in Grade 5. I enjoy the fact that Mary Jane is a strong young girl, who accomplishes everything she puts her mind to, and my imagination sees her becoming a leader as she continues through high school, and moves forward to a career. Mary Jane’s grandfather is a retired biologist university professor, her father is a lawyer, her elder sister is a nurse, and her brother is studying to become a lawyer. Mary Jane’s great-grandmother was a slave who fought to educate herself, knew things “were better up north”, and eventually escapes the south, only returning after the Civil War. These are Mary Jane’s heros.

I love the way this book is written so easily, and flows so gently, while attacking the painful hurt of discrimination. Dorothy Sterling’s writing just draws me in – even after all these years – into Mary Jane’s life and world, and eventually I feel like I am Mary Jane, feeling all her challenges and emotions through the difficult beginning of high school, and the difficult time of forging new friendships in a world that could be peaceful, but instead is alive with racism. This book is definitely written for a grade five student back in the ‘60’s. Some of the phrases are outdated today, but the sentiments are still real. The lessons and teachings of this book contributed to the lessons and teachings I received at home from my parents. Be kind to everyone. Treat everyone the same. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. And 45 – 50 years later the world still needs to know about Mary Jane.

It was only recently that I found out that Dorothy Sterling continued her career as a writer, completing approximately 35 books for adults, including some of the first non-fiction works about black history. The attached article was written when Dorothy Sterling died in 2008, at the age of 95. Interesting reading. I think a trip to the library is in order!

<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/arts/05sterling.html” target=”_blank”></a>

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It Definitely Had to Happen!! Book Review!!

It Had to Happen” – written by Cynthia A. Patterson

One of our biggest hurdles in life is letting go of our past. As humans we seem to want to linger in the past, especially dwelling on our times of illness, suffering, and loss. The question that repeats itself is: “Why?”, “Why did this happen?”, “Why now?”, and “Why me?”

In the book “It Had to Happen”, Cynthia Patterson assists us in moving past the “Why’s”, and moving forward with the understanding that our past is necessary for our future; even the rough past, maybe especially the rough past. In less than 100 pages Cynthia Patterson brings the reader to not only acknowledge the past, (the good and the rough), but to move forward from that past to the present life. A pathway that is unique to each reader.

Even when some of the author’s life examples, life wounds, did not directly apply to me, Patterson’s skilled prose led me to an alternative place – that was uniquely mine. I would suggest that it will be the same for any reader poised to move forward on their life’s spiritual journey.

When I read a book, such as this book, which has questions at the end of each chapter, I sometimes bypass those questions – and therefore the subsequent internal work those questions imply!! Sometimes.

However, you know the phrase: “She had me at `Hello'”? Well, Cynthia had me at the very first question at the end of Chapter 1. The Journal Reflections, which repeat themselves at the end of every chapter, fit together with the questions in unique and compelling ways. Cynthia calls her questions: “Discovery Questions” and they are just that.

“It Had to Happen – Understanding that Everything You Go Through in Life is for God’s Purpose” is fully realized step by step, leading the reader to the revelation that everything truly did have to happen – for you to journey your own unique path during this life.

For her biblical connection, the author chose a passage from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9 – the woman with the issue of blood. Now, do not be put off by this scripture passage, it is simply referring to a woman with some sort of health issue. Basically referring to each of us, with our everyday health and spiritual challenges, whatever they may be.

Whether you are new to a quest of self discovery and personal faith, or seeking to deepen your connection with God and self, “It Had to Happen” is an enlightening place with which to move forward. It is a book that invites the reader back time and time again, with each reading bringing you closer and closer to your inner self and ultimately to God.

“It Had to Happen” is a definite `keeper’ on my personal bookshelf!

Cynthia Patterson introduced her book by stating that we would embark on a journey – that we would visit our past – and that we would see the direction of our future. And for me, it happened! “It Had to Happen”!

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The Joy of the Written Word

The Joy of the Written Word – My Blog!

It was surprisingly difficult to decide on a Blog title, partially because what I desire to write is still floating around in my head somewhere! I want to incorporate books. I want to incorporate reading. I want to incorporate writing. Because those are my joys.

Various ideas came to mind, and I tried them out as titles. But as “they” say, when it is right, it will make itself known.

So, that’s my first post. I must now go and check out the finer points of my blog settings – and that will probably take awhile…….!!! (Where do I change this to Arial Font 12??!!)

Choose Joy!

Patricia

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