Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine by Eric Weiner
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Eric Weiner always makes me want to do things after reading his books. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World kickstarted my Iceland obsession, and this book made me want to read more about religion in a broader sense. It may finally be time to wade through Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth.
In Man Seeks God, Weiner explores eight religions through attempts to experience them, not just interviewing people but putting himself through retreats, services and rituals. He based this premise largely on his reading of William James, who said "Knowledge about a thing is not the thing itself." (He quotes heavily from Campbell and James throughout the book, both clearly were on his shoulder throughout this process). I sense that most of what was most meaningful was actually Joseph Campbell, paraphrased and applied. I'll understand more once I've read him.
I enjoyed the variety and the honesty of his perspective, often relating it back to depression and his own background as a "Gastronomical Jew." I felt like I gained a different perspective on Buddhism in particular. Most of the time, when journalists propose book projects that send them all over the world for a theme, it is excruciating to read; a thinly-veiled free trip with no context or personal interest. I find the opposite here. To me, it read as a spiritual journey, regardless of those other facts. Thank goodness.
About the place of religion:
"To flee from insecurity is to miss the whole point of being human, the whole point of religion." (Peter Bertocci)
"We can derive great benefit, tangible benefit, from myth. Not a myth in the sense of a lie, but myth in its original meaning, as a story that helps guide us through this thicket of thorns otherwise known as life."
"Take a moment... Saying grace before a meal. Watching our breath. Repeating the ninety-nine names of Allah. Whirling like a dervish. Prayer. They all have one objective: to get us to pause just long enough to realize that your life, your life, is a freaking miracle. The least you can do is pay attention."
"We are so busy looking for the big signs, the revelations, that we miss the smaller ones, the glimpses of the divine that, collectively, might add up to something very big indeed."
Specifically about paganism:
"We hold each other accountable because we believe in change, and the power of the self to cause magical transformation." (Jamie the pagan)
"Magic may be a form of self-delusion, but it is a necessary one. It is a way of jump-starting the subconscious. We all engage in these private rituals... We don't call it magic, but the dynamic is the same: altering our interior climate through external actions. Witches, though, take it a step further. They believe that not only can these actions shape our thoughts, but our thoughts, our intentions, can also shape reality."
Specifically about shamanism:
"'Shaman' derives from the Siberian word saman, which means 'one who is excited, moved, raised.'... Another definition is 'one who knows.' Not one who believes but one who knows."
Little anecdotes I liked:
"Tell no one the way your mind travels." (Nepali proverb)
"Yes,' replied the lama. 'But he was such a beautiful illusion.'"
"We fling ourselves halfway around the globe not to fall apart but to come together, to create new patterns of meaningfulness."