Archive for June, 2013

From a Book I Have Not Yet Written

Title: The Secret Of Long Life (is in this book)

Dedication: For my children and my childrens’ children

Increasing life is called Fortune
Mind controlling energy is called Power

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 55

The physical body is just a moment of thought.
Master Nan Huai-Chin

Introduction:

I offer this book to you as a guide to living a good and long life. Having a good life also means having a good death, and this book has things to say about that, too.
This book is not just about ideas, concepts or theories about longevity but includes numerous practices that lead to health and well-being. The book is actually more about practices to do than ideas to think about, although I hope there will be plenty of those too.

The practices require time, discipline and will power, things that are sometimes in short supply in the busyness of 21st century life. But the practices, besides being beneficial, also help to create the discipline and will power that are needed. In this way the practices create a positive feedback system in which personal development and growth are encouraged. “What you sow, so you reap”. What you put in
– in time, energy and commitment – are repaid many times over. This is perhaps the best investment of a lifetime.

This book is in part a kit- a combination of a book to read, a series of videos to watch and follow, audios to listen to, and a workbook to record your own impressions, history and thoughts. I hope that the entire kit will be comprehensive and easy to understand. If it isn’t I’m sure you will let me know.

First of all, let me describe the intention of this project. It is to help you to attain maximum health so you can live out your complete life span (barring accidents). I do not claim that the ideas and practices on offer will extend your life span, only that they can help you to live out the life span that is allocated to you.

There are many ways to reduce life span, and most of us do things that do take years off our potential life. The most obvious of these are smoking, excessive drinking and taking drugs, and enduring stress. Added to these are not taking enough rest, eating poorly and so on. No surprises there. We can also reduce life span by living dangerously, taking unnecessary risks. We may decide that life would have little fun unless we indulged in all or some of these activities. That’s the trade-off that each of us needs to make. Do we value life by its extent, by how long we have it, or by its quality, how exciting or fulfilling it is. This is also an equation each of us must make for ourselves. No one can tell us how we should live. All that I can do is to tell you what I have learned about life and health. What you do with that information is your concern.

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June 30, 2013 at 7:33 pm Leave a comment

The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

Yoga Kindle Cover

I finally managed to produce my first e-book, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga , which I wrote with my former wife Jo Manuel in 2002. The book has sold consistently in print, and in the past few years has become a resource for yoga teachers in training.

Many yoga courses include some philosophy into the mix, so that the root of yoga is not forgotten. Yoga philosophy is difficult to penetrate, and if it’s not taught well can be very confusing and off-putting. Jo and I wanted to write a book that presented the philosophy in as clear and accessible a way as we could, without simplifying it or dumbing it down.  This collaboration seemed to work. I wrote the exposition of the book (with input from Jo) and she tackled the writing of the 3 classic Yoga texts (with some editing from me).

I had a 4 book deal with Hodder and it was at Jo’s suggestion that I proposed the yoga book. Unfortunately I had always had a difficult time getting into Indian philosophy texts, although I felt very at home with Chinese ones. What held me back was both the strangeness of some of the ideas and the Sanskrit in which these ideas were expressed. Some Sanskrit words- like yoga and karma – are quite well know, but nama and niyama for example have less profile. Jo thought that having to study these yoga texts would force me to persevere and get a handle on them.  Once I understood them I could communicate that understanding to others in a language they could appreciate.

So when wannabe teachers have to read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Yoga Sutras, or the Upanishads, they can turn first to the chapters in our book that give them background and explanation.   After this, it’s easier for them to gain entry to the texts themselves, and hopefully to understand what they are saying.

The book also has some really fascinating material on the history of yoga. I know an author shouldn’t be saying his work is fascinating, but when I was making the e-version I had to revisit the book, and it just struck me that there are some very rare sections of interesting material. This was the result of my months of preparation and reading. There is a mountain to read in yoga, but my guiding principle in writing was that I needed to research until I became expert enough to convey the ideas in an interesting way. I wanted to be able to see the field and the trees at the same time. Many experts who know far more than me have perhaps lost site of the field and are only seeing the trees, while those who have not penetrated far enough are only seeing the field and missing the trees.

I wish the book the best of digital success.  If you read it or have read it, a review on Amazon or Goodreads always helps

 

 

June 30, 2013 at 1:15 am 3 comments

Standing On Others’ Shoulders – Part 1- (don’t hold your breath for Part 2)

I think it’s time that I started standing on my own creative feet and stop standing on the shoulders of others. In my case that means old philosophers – both east and west.  My first 5 books were all about philosophies or philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Taoism, Yoga and Socrates. I explained the ideas behind the philosophy, followed by key texts I had referred to.

My latest book – I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – is entirely different. The first part of the new book is a short introduction to  the little known but infamous Nazi death camp called Belzec. In this isolated, forested camp in SE Poland,  the Nazis killed an estimated 650,00 Jews and Gypsies.  The time between arrival by freight train to death in a gas chamber was only two hours. Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew, managed to stay alive for four months as a worker in the camp, before making a miraculous escape. By the end of the war, Reder was the only survivor of the camp, and he gave a Witness Statement recounting his experiences.

It is this Witness Statement of Reder’s that forms part two of the book. He recounts the horrific, pathetic and harrowing events that took place in Belzec, and the cruel and criminal acts of the Nazi and Ukrainian guards.  It is a difficult account to read – one man recounting the hell that the Nazis’ madness had created, and which he saw first-hand.

Part three is an account by me ( a kind of memoir ) about how and why I came across this Statement of Reder’s. It’s partly about my family and partly about my relationship to the holocaust, and its victims.  A few years ago, I decided to search for my Grandparents’ roots online via JewishGen which led me to discover hundreds of ancestors. This search ultimately led me to Lublin, and it was on a visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp that I found Reder’s Statement. At the same time I learned the fate of my grandfather’s family – those who he left behind had been sent from their homes in Lublin to be killed in Belzec .

How is this book different to the other 5? Of course it’s much more personal. I am not writing about dead philosophers but about the terrible fate of my own (newly discovered) family. It’s about history, but told in a personal way. I’ve set out my reflections on what I was learning, and my own memories were part of this discovery.   Obviously I am not a survivor of the camps and no known relative of mine had been one either. We were Americans, not Europeans. All my grandparents emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, and my parents and all of our family had been born in America. Growing up, I never realised that my grandparents had left family behind – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is the fate of those family members that my search revealed, and my memoir reflects how I came to terms with this dark knowledge.

June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Creative Advice for Creatives

Vivian Maier Self-Portrait

Vivian Maier Self-Portrait

I watched Alan Yentob’s excellent Imagine documentary (BBC) about the work of Vivien Maier, a nanny (now dead) who took 150,000 photos of things she liked, or which interested her.

Her photos are excellent, mindful of the work of Robert Frank and Diane Arbus, and the story behind them is quite extraordinary.  Because it seems Vivien never studied photography, never knew any photographers, never showed anyone her work, and printed only a few of her photos. She stored her negatives in 5 storage lockers in Chicago that she continued renting for years. But when she got too ill to pay the rent, the contents of the storage lockers were sold to auctioneers, sight unseen.  At this point all the work could easily have been trashed, except the buyer of the job lot realised they must be worth something and sold the entire lot to another dealer.  From there, a spiral of buying and selling, and a growing admiration for her work brought serious acclaim. Now her vintage prints sell for $ 8000 and new ones for $ 2000.

A great post mortem success story, like Van Gogh’s. But the part of the film that impressed me most was a comment by photo gallery owner Stephen Kasher, about how she ‘created’ her style. Vivien Maier has a distinctive visual style, all her own. How did she create it ?

Kasher said she is one of the few photographers with no (photographic) outside influences. She never exhibited, published or sold her work. Because she had a day job she did not have to take photos to please anyone but herself.  She didn’t sell them or show them. They were private, and so she could take photos of whatever interested her, and over time work out the best solution for obtaining the images she wanted. This best solution was to solely satisfy her creative urge, to get the best shot she could.

So Vivien Maier had Freedom (capital F) to do what she truly wanted. She took photos only of what interested her, and she took them at as high an artistic standard as she could achieve.  So her style comes partly through technique (the type of camera and film she used), her vision – what she wanted to shoot and the feelings and ideas they conveyed to her – and her self-effacing persona, which could be unobtrusive and capture people ‘acting’ naturally. Or should that be acting ‘naturally’?

So the essence of Vivien’s style did not come from the outside- from her equipment or other photographers- but came from the inside- from her thoughts and emotions, from the way she saw the world. Writers are always told, “Write what you know about.” And I suppose Vivien did photograph what she knew about- kids playing on a beach, street people in Chicago, the life of a flea market. But maybe a better way of saying this, and one which can be imported by  other creative artists is “Write or work about what interests you. What interests you is something you will be able to express for yourself. ” Just like Vivien.

And her great posthumous fame tells us that the more freedom we can give ourselves. the better the work we will do, whether others recognise it or not. Leaving money aside (and I know that is not easy), what Vivien’s story says about creative work is that if you can work at your art or craft without deviating from what interests you, not trying for recognition or fame,  not trying to make money, but only trying to perfect your abilities, then you may make something that lasts.

June 26, 2013 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

A Chuang Tzu Story

In my last post I wrote about a line I found in Chuang Tzu on ancestor worship. I was actually looking at Chuang Tzu to find this story (quoted in my book, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao),

Tzu Kao, the Duke of Sheh, was about to leave on a mission when he decided to consult Confucius.

“The King is sending me on an important mission to Chi. The Prince of Chi will probably treat me with great respect, but will be in no hurry to deal with me. It’s difficult enough to hurry an ordinary man, much less a prince. This worries me no end. You have always told me ‘Only through following Tao can most things, great or small, be managed successfully. If affairs turn sour, criticism follows, and even if successful, yin and yang is disturbed and anxiety can’t be avoided. Only the virtuous man, even in the face of failure, can avoid distress.’ 

My diet is plain and simple, I eat no spicy dishes that  make me thirsty. Yet only this morning I received my orders, and this afternoon I’m already gulping iced water. My body’s burning up, and the mission hasn’t even started! If it fails, I’ll be judged harshly. I suffer on two fronts and don’t feel capable of carrying out this commission. Can you give me some advice?”

The Master replied, ”In the world there are two great principles: one is the requirement implanted in our nature and the other is the conviction of what is right. The love of a daughter for her parents is implanted in her, and can never be erased from her heart. That a minister should serve his ruler is what is right, and he can’t escape this obligation. These are called the great universal principles.

Therefore a daughter finds peace in serving her parents wherever they may be, and this is the height of devotion. Similarly, a minister finds peace in serving his ruler, whatever the matter, and this is the height of loyalty. When you simply obey the commands of your heart, thoughts  of sorrow and joy don’t arise. There’s no alternative to acting as you do, and you accept this as your destiny. This is the perfection of virtue.

As a minister and a son you must do what can’t be avoided. Absorb yourself in your mission and ignore your own self. When will you have time to think of loving life or hating death? Act like this and all will be well.

Let your mind be content with the situation you’re in. Stay centered, and resign yourself to the inevitable. This is the ultimate you can pursue. What else can you do to fulfil the charge of great Tao? The best thing you can do is also the most difficult- to let things take their natural course.”

I wanted to read this story, because I had remembered these lines,

‘Only through following Tao can most things, great or small, be managed successfully. If affairs turn sour, criticism follows, and even if successful, yin and yang is disturbed and anxiety can’t be avoided. Only the virtuous man, even in the face of failure, can avoid distress.’ 

I was wondering how well I was doing in following Tao in relation to my law suit against the Monty Python group. A Taoist would say, ‘Don’t go to court. Forget it. It’s not worth the hassle and pain.” This is right. Don’t get embroiled in affairs is the Taoist way. Affairs, whether legal, business or sexual, get you entangled in them, and this leads to endless thoughts and strategies for either disentangling them, or finding a successful way through. The results of these actions are characterised correctly by Chuang Tzu- If affairs turn sour, criticism follows, and even if successful, yin and yang is disturbed and anxiety can’t be avoided. You pay the price for engaging in these activities, whether you win or lose.

You will not be surprised if I tell you that I have not avoided distress during the 8 years of pursuing this case.  I did suffer and lost the even-tempered and tranquil Taoist mentality that is both difficult to find and hard to maintain. I suffered stress, illness and it probably took years off my life. Very un-Taoist.  So why did I take on this battle? In a couple of weeks I will have the Judgement on the case, and after that has come in I will try to explain why I undertook it. Till then, I had better stay silent.

June 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm 3 comments

Honouring your ancestors means honouring yourself

Yesterday I was reading the Taoist Chuang Tzu and came across this line,

“In the ancestor shrine it is kinship which brings honour.”

In the past I wouldn’t have been struck by this line. After all, we don’t practise ancestor worship in the way that the ancient Chinese did, and we don’t have shrines to our ancestors. But this time I stopped at this line, and thought about it.  Chuang Tzu (or whoever was writing Chapter 13 of the book that bears his name)  says that at the shrine it is kinship that brings honour.  The relationship and communication we are dealing with here is between the living and the dead of the same family: that is kinship. But where does the honour come in?

It’s obvious that praying at the shrine means honouring your ancestors. You give or embody honour outwards to them. That is an expression of your honour. But doesn’t honour function very much like anger. When we are angry at someone we project our anger out at them. But really the anger affects us much more than it does them. The anger stays in our body, riles up our emotions, give us stress, and hurts us more than it does the object of our anger.

I think that honour works the same way. We project honour out, but in fact we feel that honour in our mind and body. It must affect the living more than it does the dead. After all, they are dead! When we honour our ancestors, we are in fact conveying honour to ourselves, we are creating honour internally.

Why have I thought about this?  Well, I just finished writing a book that is partly about my ancestors, and writing the book helped me to create a mental bridge to them, so that I felt closer to them than ever before. I also dedicated the book to my grandparents, and really wrote it for my grandfather Chiel Forstater, who died many years ago.

There is something to be said for honouring your ancestors. It’s a good thing, and I feel better for having done it. Does it give me honour? It certainly makes me feel good about myself.  Maybe that is the honour that Chuang Tzu meant.

June 15, 2013 at 6:40 pm 2 comments

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – The Campaign Begins

When you publish a book either by yourself or with a small publisher (mine is David Cohen of Psychology News Press) you are faced with the uphill struggle of getting your book in front of people. Without a marketing and PR budget it really is a daunting task to get your book noticed. How will anyone know it exists?

So we (myself, David and PR wizard Nigel Passingham) devised a plan to make the book visible. Whether we succeed or not you will be able to judge in the next few months. Ours is a slow-burn campaign, starting small and hopefully not shrinking from that point. We decided to start in the UK, where we are based, and where we hope to be able to shift the 750 paperback copies that Biddles printed for us (just before they went bust).

We are starting with an email campaign which I initiated today. I used Mailchimp and sent it to the 1500 people in my address book. So far about 1/3rd opened it, and we have had 43 clicks ( I assume that means possible buyers). However a number of people complained that the image in the email was altered and some of the text garbled. Why ? I have no idea so have asked Mailchimp to explain. So I plan to send a text only email tomorrow so that at least everyone will be aware of the title of the book.

I have started to email bookshops

I have started to email bookshops

 

We are trying to get one of the daily papers to do a serialisation, and will be approaching the Jewish Chronicle to see if they want to interview me. After that we hope to get a review or three and coverage of the book online, on radio and in papers. We are feeling our way, expecting some feedback, which will give us a hint as to how to promote and market the book. If we can get a bit of buzz going, and sell the first print run, then we would hope to be able to sell some International rights, and hopefully find a US publisher.  I suppose the book’s ideal selling time will be at next year’s Holocaust Memorial days

There is also a very good audio of the book which I produced. It is read by David Suchet  ( and moi) and is available on Audible.co.uk. This could also be a radio programme.

Since I went into this project as a memorial to my grandfather, I am not expecting to make money from it. But my publisher has spent some, and I’d like to make sure he doesn’t lose out. Besides, I am very proud of the book , and know that it is a good and worthwhile read, so I have no problem in promoting it.

June 12, 2013 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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