Author | Teacher | Ritual Maker | Weed Gatherer | Social Change Adventurer | All-Round Wonder Activist |
As for most of the souls that gather here, I imagine, books have been essential artifacts in my life. They have been harbingers of wonder, beauty, solace, courage, mind-expanding thoughts, heart-deepening emotions, challenging ideas, spiritual practices and even a recipe or two (there’s a certain charm to recipes that don’t come from cookbooks).
Once, coming upon Marie Kondo’s advice for pruning our belongings, I stumbled on a concept that went something like this (in my own words): “Do you plan on reading this book again? If not, send it onwards for someone else to read”. Instantly, I felt a wave or resistance course through my body. That may be fine advice for clothes, and pretty much everything else, but not for books. Not for our most beloved, essential books.
Most likely, I will not need them. They have taught me well.
Fabiana Fondevila is an Argentine author, teacher, weed gatherer, ritual enthusiast and all-around wonder activist. She also teaches a year-round course called Be the Light. Where Wonder Lives. Practices for Cultivating the Sacred in Your Daily Life (Inner Traditions) is the first of her books to be published in English.
My 10 Best
The Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
This book is the transcript of a long conversation between a famed journalist and the world’s greatest scholar of myth. For me, as for so many, the encounter with Campbell’s books and voice was a life-changing event. It all began with this oft-quoted line; “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive”. This shook me, as I was one of those people earnestly trying to “read” life for answers. From that moment on, although I of course continued to occasionally mull things over, I mostly gave myself permission to live a life of sensual and embodied wonder.
In this rich interview Campbell delves into his greatest themes: myths as metaphors, the hero’s adventures, the inner journey. But at the same time, as he was wont to do (ever since his students at Sarah Lawrence asked him to), he ties in the wisdom of the ages with everyday concerns: the true purpose of marriage, the necessity of ritual, how to relate to our emotions, how to choose one’s vocation (and defend it with our lives from all competing agendas).
There is, of course, no universal primer for living. But this comes pretty close.
by Mary Oliver
I wondered if I should recommend “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver”, as an introduction to the poet that has been a kind of spiritual mother for me. It is, after all, a much larger tome, and the author’s selection of her own work. But Thirst, a thin little creature, is where I found my home in Mary’s words, and never left (I apologize for being on a first name basis with this universally acclaimed poet; that’s just the way it is).
I got to know Mary’s words intimately by translating her poetry into my native Spanish. I wanted my students and friends to be able to enjoy her luminescent wisdom, her winged and four-footed nature, her celebratory soul. When she died, on January 17, 2019, I got the news from dozens of friends and followers who sent me their condolences via every possible media. It was as deep a blow as my most personal losses.
Throughout my years as a journalist, many asked me whether I had ever tried to interview her. The answer was always, no, I hadn’t. Aside from wanting to respect her deeply private nature, I honestly never felt the need. That was not, is not, the nature of our relationship. She writes her incandescent lines. I read them. We meet in wonder. The circle is complete.
“Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart”, she tells God, in the poem that gives the book its title. I echo the words back to her, and make them my own.
Care of the Soul
by Thomas Moore
Whenever anyone disenchanted with religion or suffering a crisis of faith asks me to recommend a different approach to spirituality, this is where I send them.
When I first read this book, many years ago, I did so with a sigh of relief. I was surprised by the way the author departed from the usual, transcendentally inspired views of spirituality, which seek the divine in higher quarters, often at a great remove from our broken and messy human experience. Instead, Moore sets up camp there.
He reimagines depression as a gift, embraces the quirks and follies that are an integral part of who we are, revalues the difficult emotions, celebrates paradox, and masterfully describes the descent to soul, which is the necessary counterpart (and preparation for) the ascent to spirit.
How to describe how humbled I was when, decades later, Thomas generously agreed to write an endorsement for my own book (Where Wonder Lives)? This I can say: my soul hasn’t stopped dancing since.
Writing Down the Bones – Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Years before Julia Cameron’s The Way of the Artist liberated blocked or frustrated creatives everywhere, Natalie Goldberg had already set us free to spill our guts—and our visions—out on the page. Her pioneering idea that anyone could write was met with rejection and derision by publisher after publisher, before finding a home with Shambala. Today, there are writing courses in every university and separate sections for books on writing in every brick and mortar and digital bookstore, and, as she quotes one of her students as saying, “writing has become the new religion”.
But more than her famous timed exercises, her appeal to truth and simplicity, and beginner’s mind, what I recall most of this beloved classic is the image of Goldberg writing her heart out over a cup of coffee in a cafe overlooking the Mesa in New Mexico. I’m not sure she actually described looking out at the Mesa, but that is how I pictured it. More than the dream of fame or publication, what jumped from her pages was the muscular joy of actually putting words on paper, and sharing her take on how it feels to be alive. Even today, I don’t think I can aspire to a better motive to sit down with my own thoughts, in my own cafes, which may or may not overlook the Mesa.
A New Republic of the Heart. An Ethos for Revolutionaries by Terry Patten
This is a book for those of us who are frightened and dismayed at the state of the world, while at the same time hopeful about the emergence of an increasingly inclusive state of consciousness that sees belonging where we once saw difference, separation and threat. It is especially suited for those of us who are not only confounded by this paradox, but yearn to do something to help tilt the balance in the direction of the latter.
The first half of this groundbreaking work spells out the predicament of our time: our power-hungry and disconnected ways, the damage we have inflicted on the planet, the urgency of climate change, the economic underpinnings of the whole catastrophe.
The second half is a call to create a compassionate and globally democratic community, by infusing our actions and our activism with the wisdom of the heart. Nothing but a full awakening to our connection to the greater whole will do. Why the heart? Because, says Terri, “its center is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere, wholeness cannot be pointed to. It has no particular location, because it is not ‘other’ than anything. But if it is anywhere, it is here, at the very center of each ‘when’ and each ‘where’.”
Filled with gems, such as why we should evolve from “seekers” to “practitioners”, the importance of the three domains of evolutionary activism (In-the-System, Against-the-System, Around-the-System), case studies of companies and movements that have embraced the heart path (which is the “we” path), this integrally informed map could potentially help us save ourselves from our own folly, and turn this ship around. I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful.
The Smell of Rain on Dust – Grief and Praise
by Martín Prechtel
This treatise on grief as a healing ritual that leads us back to praise is so musical and inspired that it feels like a shamanic transmission. It is not surprising, as Prechtel, the author, was raised on a Pueblo reservation in New Mexico, and is of First Nations and Swiss ancestry. He also lived in a Tz’utujil village near Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala, where he learned the Mayan language and studied with a shaman, eventually becoming one himself.
Perhaps his mixed lineage nourished his capacity to see beyond cultural constraints to the larger web that enlivens us. His call to grieve our losses and distill them into praise in the bosom of our communities is uttered in poetic language. But his message is sobering: if we keep on refusing to grieve, we will be condemned to a way of life predicated to separation and war.
On the other hand, he says, “If we can let ourselves ‘have’ our deepest emotions about the prospect of losing what we love most, or our deepest feelings about having lost what we do love, then those deepest feelings of love, no longer having a place to go, must now get to the real work of life: by filling the place he, she, they, or the country lost have left empty, with our creations”.
As beautiful an invitation as I have ever heard.
An End to Upside Down Thinking
by Mark Gober
It’s not often one gets to be a witness to a conceptual revolution in the making. The evidence gathered by serious scientists, through rigorous double-blind experiments, over the past hundred years or so has established that the formerly called “paranormal” phenomena (such as telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance, or remote viewing) are not just real, but actually quite normal.
However, mainstream science subscribes to a philosophical doctrine known as “materialism”, which asserts that the universe is made up solely of physical matter, and therefore phenomena which defy physical laws, as we understand them today, are de facto impossible. Gober follows in the footsteps of Dean Radin and Larry Dossey in compiling evidence that suggest that the brain is not the source of consciousness, that the mind is, in fact, non-local, and that we are as intrinsically interwoven as the roots of trees beneath the earth. If we turn this paradigm right-side up, we will begin to act accordingly. If we choose to continue to look away from what we don’t yet understand, it will be at our own peril.
The Impossible will Take a Little Time
edited by Paul Rogat Loeb
I decided to buy the print version of this book upon first sighting. Normally I only do this with authors I know and love, but it didn’t feel like much of a gamble: just reading through the names of some of the authors included (Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Wendell Berry, Maya Angelou) put a smile on my face, as did the idea of a global anthology of political hope. It immediately brought to mind a line by Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, which had taken residence in my heart many years before: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out”.
Paul Loeb’s book did not disappoint. His essays introducing each section have depth and conviction, and the selection of essays is impeccable. Together, they issue a call to a grass roots activism for justice, dignity and courage that is as moving as it is urgent. Says Paul Hawken in his piece, “You are brilliant and the Earth is hiring”: “Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, re-imagine and reconsider”. May these voices be heard.
My Grandfather’s Blessings
by Rachel Naomi Remen
Being a book devourer, as I am, I don’t often stop to reread. If I do, I tend to feel I am missing out on brilliant new ideas or turns of phrase that are just waiting to be discovered. Remen’s books are the exception. I sometimes peruse her chapters, which are short and round like multicolored beads, when I am in need of spiritual comfort.
With titles such as “Becoming a Blessing”, “Befriending Life” and “Restoring the World”, Remen’s stories come across in whispers, with no presumption or loud cookie cutter teachings. Her conclusions are fresh, humble and profound, and they always feel like a direct transmission. Through her generosity, we partake in her grandfather’s understanding of the sanctity of life, and are called to guard it in every way we can.
Reclaiming the Wild Soul
by Mary Thompson Reynolds
What if the desert spoke to us of silence and simplicity? What if the forests were the entranceway into mystery? What if oceans and rivers could be our teachers of pleasure, of flow? What if mountains were there to help us look up and seek higher grounds, higher aspirations? What if grasslands were an invitation to come home to ourselves, and the sweet company of others?
This is the imaginary journey that Thompson Reynolds proposes. It is a rich exploration, at a time when we urgently need to reconnect to the inner and outer wild. By exploring the earth’s five essential (and archetypal) landscapes, the author presents a kaleidoscope of qualities that speak to our souls. In forests, to name one, she sees not only mystery but depth, wisdom, rootedness and shadow. She matches each of these qualities with stories and practices, to help us connect to that landscape wherever we may be.
We may be cut off from travelling due to the pandemic, but we can find all of the Earth’s treasures within. That is no small gift, and we would do well to receive it.