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The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body, by Renée Gregorio

The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body: Somatic Practices to Enhance Creativity and Inspiration, by Renée Gregorio
Park Street Press, 1644119234, 192 pages, March 2024

I was unexpectedly surprised by how much I enjoyed moving through Renée Gregorio’s new book, The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body: Somatic Practices to Enhance Creativity and Inspiration. Although I can heap many praises on this book: remarking on its clean and direct writing or its superb organization and flow, what stuck out to me most was Gregorio’s stunning variety of helpful exercises. Whether you are a writer seeking to engage ever more deeply with your craft or someone simply wishing to explore your inner landscape and enrich your experience as an embodied being, you’ll find plenty of juicy content to engage with!

The text is clear and easy to digest, as one would expect from an award-winning poet. And while poetic writers can sometimes lean into style and expression a bit too heavily, potentially obscuring informative content, Gregorio demonstrates her supreme skill at communicating and evoking feelings from the reader without sacrificing the clarity of content. I believe her ability to walk this line with such grace comes from the very subject of the book–tapping into the somatic dimensions of your lived experience.

“I literally feel the words as they move through my body.It’s as if language fully occupies me, from the inside out, so that language is then born out of the body. It’s as if language and the body are really one.”1

Gregorio invites us into this exploration through her prolific use of exercises, which range from breath work and meditations to a variety of movement practices. Many of these exercises are deeply informed by Gregorio’s decades of practicing aikido, drawing upon her somatic (embodied) experience of this martial art to discover the powerful language hidden in the depths of one’s own body. Although one might think that martial arts and writing have little to do with one another, aikido has been an invaluable teacher for Gregorio because of how it relies on the interplay of energy between practitioners. By learning how to recognize, channel, and redirect the energies between herself and a partner on the sparring mat, Gregorio transmuted these insights to the dynamic between a writer and their own unique language that lies buried in their blood and bones.

At times, the amount of exercises Gregorio shares with us–usually two, if not three, per chapter!–can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to try each and every one before moving on to the next section. But not to worry, Gregorio advises the reader to pick and choose from among the exercises in each of the four main Parts of her book. As with any embodied practice, each person will have a unique experience and must experiment to discover which practices speak to them most powerfully. Thus, Gregorio’s plethora of exercises works perfectly for this method. In finding a couple exercises in each part which suit you and your writing needs, you establish a core set of practices which you can change or expand upon in the future.

As I moved further into the text, I found great appreciation for the overall organization and structure of The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body. Each of the four main Parts of the book contains seven or eight chapters which support the theme of each Part: Center is Everything, Opening the Body to Language, Turning Obstacles into Doorways, and The Roar of Your Writing. Part One begins with the most general discussion and exercises about tuning in to one’s somatic experience. Each subsequent Part then turns more directly toward the act of writing and bringing one’s embodied language out into the world.

I found this progression to be extremely helpful and well-designed to facilitate the reader’s gradual immersion into their somatic depths before trying to actively apply this to writing. As much as this book is about discovering one’s most authentic voice as a writer, it is also about unfolding one’s embodied soul through the medium of writing. Even though the practices in Part One are fairly universal–developing somatic sensitivity regardless of whether I wish to empower my writing–each contains a journal prompt that works toward integrating somatic experience and language. This led into Part Two, which focuses on creating space for your embodied writer to emerge, and deepening your relationship with that writer and the practice of your writing.

Part Three is my personal favorite, as it addresses common ways that we can get in our own way as writers. Whether fear is holding your words back, or difficult emotions and memories block you from your truest expression, Gregorio provides the means to transform each type of creative dam into a roaring river of expression. Finally, Part Four centers around harnessing the latent power of your somatic writer to bring forth the fullest and most authentic voice to your writing. This means not only discovering what you–and only you–have to write about, but also how to let your words roar off the page that can shake your audience to their core.

Sharing an insight from one of her students, Gregorio writes “at first roaring was about ‘standing up, being seen, being heard, making a difference,’ but that her definition of roaring evolved into also ‘knowing and accepting yourself so much that it is not you that roars but the words.’ Roaring is the ability to feel confident and sense your competency.”2

One of the reasons why I think this book is so effective is that many of her practices mirror those in various forms of psychological therapy. For example, exercises such as “Identifying Your Historic Patterns” and “The Mask of Self Doubt” function similarly to methods used in Internal Family Systems theory, used to help recognize and prevent one’s subpersonalities from detrimentally interfering with one another. Likewise, “Giving Shape to the Unseen” and “Accepting What’s Behind You” are reminiscent of Jungian-style shadow work. Although the practices may be similar, Gregorio’s somatic focus adds dimensions of our embodied experience that can often be overlooked in therapeutic settings.

Overall, The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body is one of the most helpful books about improving your writing that I’ve ever encountered. Even without a current writing project in my life, the range and depth of exercises are already yielding fruit. Exploring my somatic experience and journaling about my findings is certainly valuable, and has also helped in delving the depths of my soul. I definitely plan on returning to this text (over and over) to try out the different exercises, and hopefully loose my own roaring words upon the world. I don’t think it too bold to say that The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body is so approachable and applicable that it would find a home on anyone’s book shelf, regardless of their creative pursuits.

Lessons from the Afterlife, by Matthew McKay, PhD.

Lessons from the Afterlife: A Deep Knowledge Meditation Guidebook, by Matthew McKay, PhD.
Park Street Press, 9781644119402, 142 pages, April 2024

In this beautiful book, Matthew McKay shares channeled messages from his son Jordan, who passed from this life at age 23. He has titled this information Lessons from the Afterlife and not only gives us the messages, but he also tells us how to go into a type of meditation that he calls “Deep Knowledge Meditation”1. In this deep, meditative state, you may also obtain answers to a question or receive guidance. It’s a way to work with the book, as well as use it later for guidance about life’s problems.

McKay Is both a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. He co-founded the Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic, where he works with clients and trains graduate students, as well. McKay has authored or coauthored more than 40 books. This is the fourth book he has channeled from Jordan. McKay has also published a novel and two poetry books. He resides in Berkeley, CA.

In the introduction, McKay tells the story of Jordan’s death, which was a senseless shooting in San Francisco. He also shares, “I began instinctively searching for Jordan, and he started reaching out to me, within a few weeks of his death …. He made himself known in waking visions (once for me and for several others) as well as through messages from mediums, musicians, and psychically attuned friends.”2

To deal with his immense grief, McKay consulted a past life regressionist, a psychologist who taught him a technique to talk with Jordan, and a medium who “gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received — the ability to communicate at will with the dead.”3

McKay shares how to practice Deep Knowledge Meditation in the opening pages of the book. This prepares the reader for reviewing the channeled information from Jordan and then utilizing the prompts on the facing page. The workbook is structured in seven sections, each containing a page of beautiful prose from Jordan and a facing page of questions and prompts for your own exploration.  In the Appendix, the author shares more information on channeling, from how to do it, to questions to ask and “things not to ask for while channeling.”4

In his communications with Jordan, McKay learned that Jordan uses the term “All” to represent God, which he describes as: 

“All is God but not the conventional idea of God – a perfect, all-powerful entity that created and is the prime cause of all events on Earth. All created the material universe… All is neither perfect nor all-powerful. All is learning and evolving. All constantly grows in knowledge and awareness, and much of what All learns comes from us – souls who incarnate into the physical universe.”5

With this introduction to All, the author begins the journal with prose from Jordan regarding how All “sets the Universe in motion but doesn’t exert control over the events of our lives.”6 On the facing page, the reader sees four questions or prompts for personal exploration. At this point, you are invited to practice Deep Knowledge Meditation and ponder the questions. 

I did an experiment with the book and asked All to share a passage with me that would most benefit me at this point of my life. I picked up the book and opened it to page 28, which is entitled “Why All Creates.”  After reading Jordan’s channeled information, I reviewed the prompts and sat with pen and paper. What I learned was both surprising and calming.  After answering the questions posed, I was filled with the knowledge that it is okay for me to be different from my ancestors and family of origin. It is not only okay, but it is my right and that The Great All is rooting for me! This answer came from very deep inside my being and it has grounded me in a new way.

The book is very easy to read and simple to navigate. You might want to pick it up and read it from front to back, or you might want to look at the Table of Contents and select a section and a topic.  For example, if you want to explore the concept of Time, you can look at that section and choose a topic like “When Time Stops” or “Observing History.” The book is a nice size to put into your backpack or carrying case to enjoy anywhere.

Lessons from the Afterlife would be great for anyone who wants to explore the concept of God, how we came to be on Earth, and other philosophical questions. Someone who is grieving may also find comfort in this book, as the channeled information came from the author’s deceased son. McKay’s journey to reach and communicate with Jordan really helped him grieve:

“The heavy stones of grief lifted a bit. Jordan still existed; his love continued to be a force in our world. I could feel it.”7

Also, anyone who is interested in mediumship or communication with those on the other side would benefit from this book. The steps to channeling are concise and so helpful. I plan to keep this book on hand to share passages with clients who are grieving or struggling with life. The journal prompts are a fantastic way to talk with the Divine or your own Soul to get guidance and encouragement.  As McKay says:

“Remember that what Jordan says is just a spark, a place to begin your own process of discovery. Let the questions germinate and open your mind. The truth is in you; it is in each individual soul.”8

Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path, by Connie Zweigh

Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path, by Connie Zweig, Ph.D.
Park Street Press, 9781644117224, 273 pages, May 2023

After reading a number of books on shadow work a few years ago, including one by Connie Zweig, I knew I wanted to read her latest book:  Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path.  Zweig is a retired therapist, former book editor, and author of six other books, including The Inner Work of Age. She has been practicing and teaching meditation for more than 50 years. She is also an expert on ageism and has written extensively on the topic, as well as how mindfulness changes as people age. Zweig is also a wife, stepmother, and grandmother. Her website is https://conniezweig.com/.

Zweig began her spiritual journey at the age of 19 in a meditation class on the UC Berkeley campus and then decided to take a month-long meditation retreat. Following that retreat with teacher training and more meditation, Zweig later became disenchanted with the community and returned home.  When she found a Jungian analyst, she began to learn about the shadow and started a ten-year journey to examine her own beliefs and the philosophies of mystical traditions. With her therapist’s help, she looked at her grief and disillusionment with her teacher and his teachings.  She also studied, earned her Ph.D. and became a therapist.

Zweig does a deep dive into the shadow aspects of spiritual life and spiritual teachers, including research into almost every spiritual and religious tradition. I was shocked to hear of the widespread emotional and sexual abuse in all religious groups in the US and around the world.  She discusses not only the widely publicized abuse in the Catholic church, but also in the Southern Baptist Church and others. She spoke with those who were abused, as well as some of the religious leaders themselves. She also discusses negative meditation experiences and some of the dangers of meditation, from “moderate anxiety to dissociation to psychotic symptoms that required hospitalization.”1

One of Zweig’s goals in writing this book is to provide information that fosters better discernment on the part of the student or parishioner:

“As would be the case with any abusive relationship, if they can detect a warning sign, such as emotional coercion or physical intimidation, they can more consciously choose to stay or leave, to speak up or stay silent.  .  .  . If you are seeing a warning sign, please ask yourself: If I didn’t believe this teacher to be awakened or enlightened, would this behavior be called abusive?” 2

Zweig shares over and over that a student’s “longing for the light evokes its opposite: a shattering encounter with spiritual darkness.”3 This darkness is usually a projection of the person’s own darkness, usually formed in childhood.  She shares an example of a man who joined a Pentecostal church and began to fast, live out of his car, and even purchased a billboard for the church. He did all of this at the urging of his pastor to win souls and give as much money as possible to the church ministry.  After working with Zweig in therapy, the man came to see the shaming and emotional abuse from the pastor as similar to his own father’s abuse.  By healing the shame and guilt, he was able to claim a more conscious relationship with himself and his own sovereignty.

Zweig writes in a very conversational style, as if you are sitting in a coffee shop or someone’s home discussing the spiritual journey. The information is related in a very factual way, with her sources clearly noted and she has carefully done her research. Underscoring the information is her love for meditation and how it has shaped her life. The reverence she shows for the traditions and philosophy of meditation and spiritual practice have fueled her search for the truth and a solution to this type of abuse.

Meeting the Shadow on the Spiritual Path will be enjoyed by the serious meditation student, teacher, or anyone who has an interest in the holiness of meditation and spiritual teachers. Therapists and those who are interested in more information on shadow work would also benefit from reading this book. However, this book would not be a good reference for the beginner student of shadow work.

Zweig Includes a very extensive table of contents, which makes it easy to go back and find different sections. She divides the book into two parts: “Before the Fall: A Guide for Faithful Believers” and “After the Fall: A Guide for Disillusioned Believers”. She also breaks down Part One into “a longing for God”, “a longing for the human beloved” and “a longing for the divine human”. This puts the book into the proper context and makes it easier to navigate.

In Appendix 1 she includes the ASI Code of Ethics and in Appendix 2 she includes the IMS Code of Ethics. This information denotes clear boundaries for both the Association for Spiritual Integrity (ASI) and the Insight Meditation Society (IMS). This work also includes an extensive bibliography and a complete index including many of the people named in each of the chapters.

In Zweig’s own words:

“To sum up, we may meet a teacher’s shadow, we may meet our own shadow, or we may suffer disillusionment with spiritual beliefs or practices. In any case, our dreams of transcendence and communion fade. . . . When the meeting with the Other occurs, the descent begins. It is this loss of innocence and descent to the underworld that initiates us into the mystery and complexity of the human shadow, especially as it is linked to divine life.”4

Through a Divine Lens, by Sue Frederick

Through a Divine Lens: Practices to Quiet Your Ego and Align with Your Soul, by Sue Frederick
Park Street Press, 1644117320, 250 pages, June 2023

Imagine that someone were to ask you to tell your life story. How would it unfold? How would you view the health issues, job losses, relationship failures, and work challenges? Do you view the hardships as trials and tribulations with no meaning other than to impose torture upon you? Or, do you view them as ways to grow, to put you back on your true path that you might have strayed from? Through what lens are you viewing how your life is unfolding?

In her book, Through a Divine Lens: Practices to Quiet Your Ego and Align with Your Soul, Sue Frederick encourages the reader to remember that “every single soul comes here to learn and evolve.”1 She writes extensively about the two lenses from which we can view the opportunities and challenges that come into our life: the ego lens and the divine lens. The divine lens empowers, draws its wisdom from the soul, and shines light. The ego lens is based in fear, in scarcity, and is crippling. The divine lens sees all of us as one, while the ego separates.

Through telling her own personal story and those of others, Fredrick illuminates the benefits to viewing both what has happened in one’s life and what is currently happening through the divine lens. Doing so will not only bring us closer in alignment with divine love and support but will also cause us to become a more awakened being, enabled to “become a beacon of light for those who live in darkness.”2

The first part of the book deals with the ego lens versus the divine lens, touching on real-life issues such as anger and jealousy, anxiety and sadness, perfectionism and stress, addiction and its many forms, fear, and self-doubt. On each topic Frederick deftly touches on how the lens through which we are viewing each of the issues impacts our health, our happiness, and our alignment with a higher good. While it might not seems easy to do the turnaround to view these issues through a divine lens, she pointed shows us how living our life through the ego lens causes hurt, detachment, and continual movement away from our true, unique purpose that each of us has chosen to come to the dense realm of Earth to experience. 

She doesn’t leave us to navigate this transformation of moving from ego lens to divine lens alone. She offers questions to ponder, ways to shift our view, and energy shifters. How does one use their pain as fuel? Frederick explains that in detail and offers ways to understand that “pain heals us by giving us a chance to refocus on what’s important: who and what we truly love, why we are here, and what great work will fulfill our Earth mission.”3 

Earlier I asked you to think of your life story. Frederick moves the question a bit deeper, from the mundane to asking you to tell you your soul story. The shift is telling the story from a divine perspective versus an ego-based one.

“What moments do you recognize as gifts of opportunity and divine guidance that you did or did not recognize at the time?”4

The second part of the book details the gift of the divine lens including seeing death as transformation, how to use grief in a positive way, using one’s intuition as a guide, finding meaningful work, and returning to our sacred self. Again, Frederick offers guidance in ways that enable us to connect with our higher self, including self-questioning, monkey-mind quieting meditation, prayers, and the power of asking for divine guidance. 

She is also a certified Soul Regression therapist. Of particular interest might be the past life regressions that she writes about centering around grief-shifting. Frederick offers a soul story of when she guided a woman about to enter treatment for leukemia to meet with her Council of Elders. She also provides a transcript of another session in which she guided a woman through a past life regression in order to foster self-love.

Frederick concludes the book with a section on numerology because as she writes, “Our souls choose the exact moment, place, and date of our birth because those coordinates create a unique vibration that aligns with our earth journey with what our soul came to experience. These coordinates are reflected in numerology and astrology.”5 She shows how to calculate our birth path number including whether or not we possess “master soul” numbers. She goes on to describe what the lessons and challenges of each birth number and the mission our soul intended to fulfill.

I first got to know Frederick through an intuitive and birth path session that she conducted for me decades ago. I’ve followed her work ever since then and can attest that she is an amazing numerologist and spiritual coach who freely shares her gifts. I’ve followed the twists and turns in her life since my first encounter with her and saw first-hand how she shifted challenges and life changes by using her diving lens.

I particularly liked how open and honest she was in recounting the challenges that she faced in life including death of loved ones, changes in careers, money issues, and real self-doubt. Frederick comes out on the other side by shifting the perspective from which she views her life – and that is the path that she encourages us to walk. And encouraging she is:

“It takes just baby steps to break a lifetime pattern of ego-and fear-based learning. Seeing just one painful moment through your divine lens changes everything.”6

I highly recommend Through a Divine Lens for those looking to see their life through a renewed perspective. If you read with an open heart what Frederick offers through her guidance and insight will truly change your life.

The Poison Path Herbal, by Cody Michael

The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, & Ritual Enthogens, by Coby Michael
Park Street Press, 978-1644113349, 256 pages, 2021

Any book that has a large warning at the start of it gets my attention. The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, & Ritual Enthogens by Coby Michael is not here to play. It’s here to teach you reverence and respect for this particular path, and above all, it’s here to transmute your life.

A practitioner of the Poison Path of occult herbalism and cultivator of entheogenic herbs, Michael is perfectly positioned to take the reader on this journey through the misunderstood baneful herbs. As well as practicing, he also contributes to the Pagan Archives at Valdost University, writes regularly for The House of Twigs, and maintains his own blog on Patheos Pagan called Poisoner’s Apothecary. Somehow in the midst of all that, he teaches classes and online workshops on plant magic, baneful herbs, and traditional witchcraft. 

Michael dives right into the subject, explaining that this book is “focused on the magical and spiritual uses of baneful herbs, entheogens, and plant spirit allies as well as their history and mythology.”1 He goes on to explain a few terms that are used generously throughout the book such as baneful which “refers to the ability of a thing to cause harm, and because of this threat, the baneful thing becomes taboo and gains a sinister reputation.”2

Baneful things, especial when talking about plants, can cause bodily harm and in some cases death if the practitioner isn’t clear on what they are doing. The book is separated into three parts, with part 1 covering off the basics of the poison path, Part 2 discussing the three ways of the poison path, and the last section which deals with bringing that knowledge together in practice. It’s very well laid out and a thoughtful path to follow if you are just starting your journey on this particular path.

Be warned though: this isn’t a gardening book, nor is it a how-to for using plants to hex your ex or find a job. Some of the information presented might be bit overwhelming if you don’t have a regular spiritual practice; as with any undertaking similar to this, you can expect to be changed by the process. Michael cautions against simply jumping in and instead recommends learning about the herbs’ chemistry and how the various plants affect human physiology. 

I had the notion of reading this book and then being able to find alternative solutions for my anxiety. Anxiety is not fun and presents different symptoms in many forms in those who experience it, and for me personally, it can be debilitating at times. I don’t like taking prescription medication because it makes me feel dull, so looking for another way to help myself is what prompted me to read this book. After going through it however, I realize that there’s much more to this than simply making a cup of herbal tea and wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket while I wait for the mind-goblins to quieten down. This is an actual path to follow and it is directly linked with Shadow Work. There is no spiritual bypassing here.

Fortunately, Michael seems to have understood this, as he writes clearly about the various families of plants and lists what they are used for. He also addresses the notion of using poisonous plants as spirit allies in magical practice despite the danger they present. He stresses the importance of personal exploration, as there is no substitute for your own counsel in such personal things. Such learnings do have a price though, as Michael clarifies, “…we learn to work with our own shadow as well as the darker forces of the natural world.”3

Having laid out the various plant families and their uses, Michael moves on to discuss the crossroads on the path of poison. This is where it gets a bit advanced; if you aren’t familiar with planetary influences you might find yourself scratching your head and wondering what the hell you’re reading. On the assumption that the reader has a working knowledge of planets and their influences, Michael writes brilliantly about Mercury, Venus and Saturn: the three paths of poison. He arranges them visually in a triangle, a shape that represents the traditional threefold worldview that many pagan cultures subscribe to. 

This collection of planetary influences is the basis for the Poison Path, and a profound one. Michael says, “The archetypal forces of Saturn, Venus, and Mercury are aligned with the currents of magic, witchcraft, and plant lore, providing powerful allies to one’s craft… their association with boundaries and liminal spaces in addition to their correlation with the other world and witchcraft mythos are the powerful themes expressed in this book.”4

Those themes run through the book, making the reader either cringe at the thought of having to learn more information on planets and such, or is an absolute delight to those who have working knowledge and wish to add to it. Planetary magic is not easy, and when baneful herbs are included as an accompaniment it becomes challenging for those not accustomed to specific terms and phrases. 

There is a lot of information in The Poison Path Herbal that might not be appropriate for those who live in the ‘good vibes only’ section of the chorus, as much of this book is dedicated to personal gnosis and the responsibility inherent in achieving that gnosis. I will be adding this book to my collection simply because it doesn’t coddle or coerce: this book demands your undivided attention and promises great rewards for doing so. Alternatively, if you aren’t prepared to go all in, you might want to pick up a different book. Out of respect for the writer, if you aren’t prepared to shovel your personal shit, don’t try to use this book as a way to cover it up.

The Inner Work of Age, by Connie Zweig, Ph.D.

The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul, by Connie Zweig, Ph.D.
Park Street Press, 9781644113400, 393 pages, September 2021

As a woman of a “certain age”, I was not surprised when the Universe placed The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig, Ph.D. in my hands. Of course, the information would be pertinent as I contemplated taking an early retirement option to join others in what is being termed the “Great Resignation”. And yes, I had faced a life-alerting disease that served as a wake-up call. The real question though, was how receptive I would be to doing the inner work offered in the book to shift from “role to soul.”

Dr. Zweig explores the “inner ageist” that exists in us, and in parables, stories, and interviews, “uncovers a realm of aging that is unexplored territory: the unconscious, or Shadow.”1 The book explores ways to remove inner obstacles to aging from the inside out and in doing so, connect to the soul.

Aging is not an option, of course. But how do we shift from a role-centered life to a soul-centered life? If you ask someone to tell you a little about themselves odds are they begin with describing what they do for a living; their role that’s earn money is often their first identity. The shift to doing one’s soul work, transitioning to the role of the Elder, does not automatically manifest due to one’s chronological age. It requires intention and inner work, which is outlined in the book.

The book is divided into four parts. Part One centers on Divine Messengers and offers ways to age from the inside out. How does one break one’s identification solely with one’s role and focusing on nourishing one’s soul? It describes three portals to aging consciously – shadow awareness (the portal to depth), pure awareness (the portal to silent vastness), and mortality awareness (the portal to presence). It also explores two divine messengers – retirement and life-changing illness.

This section of the book most resonated with me. The chapter on retirement offered me the opportunity to explore what was holding me back from accepting a very generous retirement package and shifted my focus to wanting time affluence – time to do what I want, when I want to do it – versus a fixation on financial affluence – and facing my shadow of fearing financial destitution.

Part Two focuses on Life Review and Life Repair where one is offered the chance to work in ways to review one’s life – both lived and unlived and the ways to repair and release the past in order to live more fully in the present. The section offers ways to repair one’s past, to look back and reconcile to move towards closure. In reframing the negative, one can see betrayals as initiations into the shadow.

The focus of Part Three is on moving from Hero to Elder and describes the many forms of the Elder archetype – the spiritual, the creative, the Earth, and the activist among others. Elder wisdom calls one to “serve something larger than ourselves” while also transmitting knowledge gleaned over one’s lifetime. Part Four centers on Life Completion and consciously moving toward a completed life. It allows one to reimagine death – not as a finality but as the completion of a cycle.

Each chapter of the book begins with a parable that exemplifies the chapter’s focus. Each chapter also contains interviews with a wide range of individuals from mystic Robert Atchely, Buddhist teacher, Anna Douglas, and two of my personal favorites, kirtan chant leader, Krishna Das and Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman. The interviews often encapsulate the focus of the chapters in a nutshell. I particularly loved how Marion Woodman spoke about the “crown of age,” knowing that the word crone is derived from the word crown – relating to the crown chakra.

As the book encourages action and inner work, at the end of each chapter one is offered questions focused on Shadow Work practices as well as Spiritual Practices, or “contemplative practices to turn your attention from role to soul.”2

“Each chapter offers practices from shadow-work and spiritual contemplative traditions to help us break through denial, become aware of these inner obstacles, and overcome them. These practices ask us to slow down, turn within, and self-reflect.”3

Dr. Zweig reminds the reader that “as each of us chooses not to merely grow old but to grow whole, to intentionally step across the threshold to become and Elder, we discover that aging can be a spiritual path.”4 There is a lot of “stuff” that comes up as one ages and reaches certain milestones that are too often associated with redundancy, where one feels relegated to the corner of the room, no longer viable, when one’s “doing” slows down and as such, one might be termed a liability to society and instead of an honored and revered member. This inner work, this move to self-awareness will greatly benefit the reader in particular – and one’s community as well.

Dr. Zweig’s writing style is easy to understand despite the book being laced with studies from publications such as the Harvard Gazette, Psychology and Aging, and Scientific American. Her descriptions of sessions with clients offer insight and analysis on various archetypes and Shadows, such as Victim and Victimizer.

I highly recommend reading The Inner Work of Age, but more importantly, I recommend doing the work as prescribed.

“With inner work, we move beyond midlife and cross a threshold into later life, emerging as the Elder. We let go of the striving and the pushing; we let go of the “should.” We release our past identifies but carry all that we’ve learned, all that we love, always, within us. In this way, we are evolving from role to soul.”5

Do the inner work necessary to transition to the role of Elder – you’ve earned that crown. Wear it with pride.

The Lotus and the Bud, by Christopher Kilham

The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice, by Christopher S. Kilham
Park Street Press, 192 pages, 1620559404, January 2021

The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice by Christopher S. Kilham is a wonderful guide to deepening one’s explorations into the expanded states of consciousness offered through yoga practice. Unlike most texts on the practice of yoga, however, this one provides knowledge, methods, and advice about how to awaken one’s kundalini energy by combining yogic discipline with the mindful use of cannabis.

Kilham draws upon his decades of yoga practice and the accumulated experiences of his travels around the world to present a comprehensive look at how ganja – his preferred term for this plant medicine – is a perfect companion for fostering growth in the connection between mind, body, and spirit.

I heartily recommend this book for anyone seeking to cultivate an intimate, free-flowing connection with the Universe: to experience the unity of all that is. Yet, while The Lotus and the Bud is incredibly digestible and easy to read, its content is not intended for someone simply looking to spice up their yoga practice. The techniques and wisdom that Kilham offers are geared toward a holistic shift in one’s life.

“In my fifty years of daily practice, I have come to regard yoga as a cosmic current of pure wisdom consciousness that runs through human history. . . Yoga does not choose us because we are special in any manner, but simply suitable for the task of carrying illumination forward.”1

What Kilham presents in The Lotus and the Bud is not merely for the sake of relieving pain, strengthening the body, or calming the mind. Although the practices found in the book can accomplish these ends to a superb degree, the true power of the techniques lies in realizing ultimate oneness with the Universe, and revealing that truth through our daily lives.

He emphatically urges the reader that stepping onto the yoga mat means bringing your whole self to the party: coming to your practice with sincerity, respect, and determination. This naturally entails that you should never infuse with ganja to the extent that you lose the focus and intent of your practice. Being thoroughly baked is good for a cake, not so much for a yogi.

In the first section of the book, and scattered throughout the rest of the text, is an account of Kilham’s own yogic journey, including the insights he learned along the way from teachers, gurus, and his experiences with psychoactive substances and plant medicines. One of the most interesting aspects of this introduction to Kilham’s story is how he navigated the (sometimes treacherous) waters of gurus when he was a young man, learning to discern true teachers from self-serving frauds.

Here, and throughout The Lotus and the Bud, the reader will find many amusing and intriguing quotes about cannabis and its use. These quotes come from people spanning all of history, as well as the present day: from music icons, to U. S. presidents, to Middle Eastern folklore and mythology. My favorite is from Stephen Gray:

“When someone first smokes cannabis, and the conditions are right, something remarkable and concerning happens. . . The user is suddenly thrust upon a world of wonder, relaxation, humor, passion, creativity, and perhaps even gnosis.”2

The book winds its way through the history, cultural milieu, and spiritual significance of yoga and cannabis, each with its own dedicated section. Kilham provides a succinct overview of the chakras and the general essence of yogic practice. His purpose is not to provide a full treatise on yoga and its practice, but he does well in establishing the groundwork so that even a yoga novitiate can understand the guiding principles. In a similar vein, Kilham presents a brief, multicultural account of cannabis, its use throughout history, and defends its validity as a medicinal herb.

What I enjoyed most about these informative sections is the frequent inclusion of mythology. In fact, the reader will learn that, in Hindu culture, yoga and cannabis have one and the same origin – the god Siva. Even in ancient times, these people recognized that yoga and ganja were a match made in heaven, both presented as gifts to humanity so that we might experience “absorption into limitless and unfathomable spirit.”3

As with any mythological viewpoint, one doesn’t need to share a literal belief about the origin of these gifts, but I think it creates a beautiful link between past and present, especially after cannabis was so fiercely attacked and regulated in more recent eras. Our recent (re)discovery of the beneficial nature of ganja, in particular, and its potent combination with yoga is rightly seen as a continuation of physical, mental, and spiritual explorations that have gone on throughout human history.

Kilham also is also very good at weaving in the current scientific investigations and discoveries with the historical narrative of ganja. The recent findings about the body’s endocannabinoid system reveal that it has the ability to affect almost every other system and organ. Kilham observes that infusing ganja into yoga practice allows one to better tune in to the flow of energy within the body. Since the endocannabinoid system assists in holistic regulation of the body, Kilham thinks its functions correspond to the activity of the energetic body: notably, the chakra energy centers.

The second half of the book contains more direct guidance from Kilham about the proper attitudes and helpful techniques that will make the most of your ganja-yoga experience. One piece of advice that I’d never heard before was to focus on feeling rather than visualizing during yoga. Although visualization can be helpful in expanding your awareness of the body’s energetic flow, Kilham’s experience suggests that feeling into what’s taking place in your corporeal form is a path of direct access to your energetic state. He also covers the gamut of methods for infusing with cannabis, and presents good reasons why some are better for this practice than others.

Finally, Kilham goes through a fair number of yoga asanas, meditation, and relaxation techniques that he recommends specifically for expanding your kundalini energy. For each of these, he provides clear and simple instructions as well as a list of mental and physical benefits.

In all, I found The Lotus and the Bud as a surprisingly comprehensive dive into the beautiful and beneficial relationship between ganja and yoga. Kilham brings a bounty of learning to the table, using both academic research and life experience to convey the wisdom found in the marriage between the lotus and the bud. Although it will take time and dedication to unlock the full splendor of Siva’s gifts, the journey sounds well-worth the effort.

Cannabis Healing, by Franjo Grotenhermen, M.D.

Cannabis Healing: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC, and Other Cannabinoids, by Franjo Grotenhermen, M.D.
Park Street Press, 978-1620558317, 240 pages, 2020

Although I am a medical cannabis patient and an avid proponent of the plant’s myriad healing properties, this was my first experience reading a cannabis “guide.” I was drawn to this book because at just 240 pages, it covers an impressive number of topics. Cannabis Healing: A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC, and Other Cannabinoids, by Franjo Grotenhermen, M.D. is a great resource whether you are new to cannabis, a recreational user, or an experienced patient.

Dr. Grotenhermen is a practicing physician in Germany. Currently, he serves as the executive director of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM) and is a board member of the German Association for Medical Cannabis. Per their website, “the IACM declares that it is the right of doctors to be able to discuss the medicinal use of cannabis with their patients.”1

Cannabis Healing is a complete guide, from the history of cannabis, to its medicinal and nutritional benefits, to the specific methods of administering the medicine. Dr. Grotenhermen focuses on the safety of cannabis, noting throughout the book that cannabis has been proven not only to be effective, but also much safer than other medicinal alternatives.

I read Cannabis Healing over the winter holidays (in between baking cookies and family Zoom calls) so I particularly enjoyed how easy it was to read in sections. I already knew the history of cannabis cultivation and therapeutic use, but Dr. Grotenhermen’s 17-page overview in the first chapter was still an interesting “crash course” for me.

While I appreciated learning about the Western countries that pioneered the sale of medicinal cannabis, I do wish there had been significantly more focus on the ancient cultures that first identified the plant’s medicinal and sacred uses. The chapter is called “History of the Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis”; for a history that is thousands of years long, I think it deserved more than about two pages. 

I was especially interested in reading chapter four, which focuses on Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has exploded in popularity in recent years, and with good reason. I give it to my dog for separation anxiety and my mother uses it to ease her rheumatoid arthritis pain. Unfortunately, because mainstream therapeutic use of CBD is relatively new, this chapter only mentions older research done on animals, not humans. Dr. Grotenhermen notes that some study results still need to be evaluated, including studies focused on CBD’s potential in treating circulatory and respiratory ailments.2 I think it would have been helpful to read more about CBD, especially as it is more readily available than THC and legal in the United States.

The majority of the book is contained in that chapter “Therapeutic Uses of Tetrahydrocannadbinol (THC).” This chapter details the specific ways in which patients can use cannabis to treat specific ailments or conditions. I learned about several THC treatments that were completely new to me. For example, Dr. Grotenhermen describes a study focused on THC used to help  patients with severe itching that had not responded to prior treatments.3 Not only did the THC treatment help the patients’ quality of sleep, but several reported that it relieved the itching itself. Other therapeutic uses he covers include diabetes, tinnitus, and even hiccups. For a book of its length, this chapter manages to cover more therapeutic uses than I had anticipated.

Chapter eight of the book focuses on hempseed oil. I have used THC and CBD for therapeutic purposes, as well as in cooking, but never hempseed oil. In this chapter, I learned that hempseed oil can be used in place of fish oil to lower LDL blood cholesterol. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, hempseed oil can also be used to treat symptoms of PMS and rheumatoid arthritis.4 I am continually impressed by the cannabis plant’s therapeutic uses, from its leaves, to its flowers, to its very seeds. I will definitely be purchasing a bottle of hempseed oil on my next supermarket excursion.

I would recommend Cannabis Healing for anyone who is a current medical cannabis patient or is just interested in learning more about this powerful plant. Dr. Grotenhermen manages to cover a lot of ground for such a short book. He even includes a recipe for Cannabis Rum Truffles!5 This book serves as a solid jumping off point, and it has encouraged me to read more books about medicinal and therapeutic cannabis.