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Being Ram Dass Book Review

My ‘Being Ram Dass’ book review will look at this newly published autobiography of Ram Dass and hopefully inspire you to read it for yourself!

In the afterword of this book, Ram Dass states that he was not particularly interested in writing an autobiography. He spent the major part of his life cultivating presence and not living in the past or the future. Ram Dass was persuaded to write this memoir by Ramesh after he suggested it be angled as a review of his life through the eyes of his guru, Maharaj-ji. As a result we have a wonderful document of the life of Ram Dass. It is written in the intelligent, honest, open and charismatic way one would expect of Ram Dass.

Who is Ram Dass?

Being Ram Dass book review

Ram Dass was / is a famous spiritual teacher. He left his body on 22nd December 2019 on the Island of Maui, Hawaii. During his lifetime he undertook extensive lecture tours, ran retreats and authored over a dozen books. ‘Be Here Now’, his first book, sold over 2 million copies. It is through this book that I started to dig deeper into the teachings of Ram Dass. He is also known for popularising interest in psychedelic drugs in the 1960’s alongside his colleague and friend Timothy Leary.

The inspiration for buying a copy of Be Here Now was found in David Williams’ memoir ‘My Search for Yoga’ which you can read a review of here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/

Richard Alpert at the height of The American Dream

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert. He was a chubby child who ate to please his mother. As a psychologist he would later have to work through some issues around this! He was born into a practicing Jewish family. The family were very well connected, his mother was from a wealthy family and his father became a wealthy self-made man. His father was friends with Albert Einstein which gives a feel for the kind of circles they mixed in!

However, their family life was always slightly marred by his fathers multiple affairs. Richard’s father wanted him to become a doctor. He had already begun to feel a sense of ‘otherness’ or a feeling of being a bit of an outsider. This resulted in him being drawn to psychology.

Richard Alpert ultimately reached the pinnacle of this career, despite crippling exam nerves, becoming a professor at Harvard. He was an embodiment of the American Dream. Richard had achieved professional respect, wealth, a sports car, a motorbike, a home full of valuable antiques and his own aeroplane. The kind of position he achieved is demonstrated in the story he tells of wanting to go to Mexico and buying a plane to travel there.

Feelings of being something of an outsider led him to travel to the west coast and to San Fransisco. He embraced the counter culture surrounding the Beat Generation poets and authors. Poetry readings by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac et al were attended. Richard struggled with his bisexuality and began to feel that he was leading a bit of a double life, a life as the respectable professor in Harvard and then a different life style in San Fransisco. It is clear that he struggled with shame around this due to the social pressures and cultural attitudes of the time.

Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary – psychedelic researchers

A new psychologist joined the faculty staff at Harvard by the name of Timothy Leary. Richard and Tim became great friends and embarked on research together. Their research moved into a very different area after Timothy Leary took magic mushrooms on the recommendation of a friend. Consequently, they started to investigate the effects of various psychedelic drugs as a potentially beneficial tools in psychotherapy. Research into this had already been taking place in some institutions. It later came to light that the US government has funded a project looking at the potential use of LSD in warfare. Allen Ginsberg took LSD as part of that particular project.

We must remember that at this time everything that was taking place was under the cover of research and was completely legal. This was well before the war on drugs. It struck me how meticulous they were with their research. They has a real sense of responsibility around the research. Dosages of drugs, environment and provision of a guide were all important features.

The approach taken by Richard and Tim is in stark contrast to that of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters who advocated taking as many drugs as you wanted and seeing what happened. Richard however was sacked from Harvard after he gave drugs to a handsome undergraduate who had caught his eye and asked for them.

Tim and Richard continued research independently. They were chased and evicted from place to place trying to set up a research centre into psychedelics. We get a feel that at around this time, things probably weren’t as fastidious as they had previously been. It felt as though Richard had become something akin to a drug dealer and this is when he took a step back.

From Dr Richard Alpert PhD to Ram Dass

Being Ram Dass is very much about the internal journey of Richard Alpert to Ram Dass.

Ram Dass discusses psychedelics as a gateway drug. Often this refers to a gateway to harder drugs. He postulates that they were a gateway but in a different way. They were a gateway to opening to the living spirit beyond the materialism and existential constructs of 1950’s America. In essence, they enabled him to let go of the labels, ego and conditionings and to see a connectedness with everyone and everything. He liked the mystical experience that he found.

The Zen meditation teacher Alan Watts advised him that “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” Richard took some time before he hung up the phone!

A trip to India was a pivotal changing point in his life. Richard Alpert met Neem Karoli Baba affectionately known to his followers as Maharaj-ji. He gave Richard Alpert his new name of Ram Dass literally meaning servant of God. Maharaji-ji sent him to learn yoga and an intense period of study ensued.

During this period Maharaj-ji gave Ram Dass his blessing for his book. Ram Dass had no plans to write a book! The book that eventually materialised was ‘Be Here Now’ which is a classic guide to yoga and spirituality. You can find a link to our book reviews at the bottom of the page where you will find my ‘Be Here Now’ review.

Beware of dodgy gurus

Ram Dass embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery. He embraced and sought out different teachers and techniques but remained faithful to his teacher Maharaj-ji.

There is an interesting part of the book where he discusses studying under different gurus. He refers to ‘gurus along the way.’ One promised him wealth and power, trying to pitch Yoga to a westerner in a way that the guru thought he would be interested. Wealth and power were not attractive to Ram Dass. They are not a spiritual path. He had experienced wealth and power in his career and he resonated more with Maharaji-ji’s path of the heart. His intention had moved from the head to the heart.

The spiritual journey in India features an array of famous names. It is clear that there were a group of like minded searchers converging on India. These people then radiated the teachings out across the world.

Ram Dass’ mantra gift

The book is full of beautiful insightful quotes. I wanted to share in this ‘Being Ram Dass book’ review the mantra that he gives the reader.

Nowadays the mantra I give everyone is “I am Loving Awareness,” which is my own simple practice. The love is bhakti, the awareness is Buddhism: awareness and love, wisdom and compassion, formless and form, consciousness and love.

Ram Dass – Being Ram Dass
My favourite picture from the book. Ram Dass meditating in the dome at the Lama Foundation

Ram Dass Stroke in 1997

In 1997 Ram Dass suffered a major stroke from which he was given a 10% chance of survival. After a series of further health issues including a broken hip and sepsis, Ram Dass became quite frail and more dependent on his carers. He talks about how this enforced change resulted in a spiritual shift in how he viewed his service to others. Ram Dass became a being of presence and loving awareness. He loved nature and the natural world around him. Living out the later part of his life in Maui provided a connection to nature and its astounding beauty.

The stroke left him paralysed on his right side and affected his ability to talk. His speech became more broken and paused. He would ask people to ‘surf the silences’ with him. Interestingly as a listener you feel that you absorb his words more and have time to ponder and digest.

Ram Dass’ legacy

The legacy of Ram Dass lives on in his teachings, via this book and also through the numerous projects he instigated.

The Neem Karoli Baba ashram in Taos, New Mexico, is dedicated to his guru and Ram Dass was heavily involved in its realisation. Neem Karoli Baba has certainly become known in the west due to the work and life of Ram Dass. As detailed in this ‘Being Ram Dass’ book review, the inspiration for the book was to see his life through the eyes of his own guru.

Ram Dass had the foresight to record a large number of his lectures and talks. They serve to bring his teachings to new ears regularly via podcasts. You can find a link to these at the end of the review.

The SEVA foundation was another initiative that Ram Dass was involved in setting up. This is a fantastic organisation that works to restore people’s sight via cataract surgery around the world. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what the organisation has evolved into.

In the 1980s when the HIV epidemic was rife he sought to comfort those dying and to spend time with them, hugging people in hospital.

An important aspect of his later life was his openness around his sexuality. He started to talk about this and embrace this aspect of his life. It is comforting to the reader to note that he had a 19 year loving relationship with his partner Peter. I am glad that Ram Dass lived to see the world’s attitude around LGBTQ+ rights take some big steps forward. He details that he struggled with this so much but thankfully made peace with it and this was a real release for him.

Final Words from Ram Dass

The book ends with;

I have learned that we are all blessed and guided from within even when we lose faith or feel lost. That guide, the real guru, is our own being, our true nature.

Namaste, Honouring the Light within each of us!

Ram Dass – Being Ram Dass

The back of the book list’s Maharaj-ji’s advice and guidance:

Love Everyone, Serve Everyone, Remember God, Tell The Truth.

The words of which Ram Dass certainly led his life.

Being Ram Dass book review

Being Ram Dass Book Review Summary

I loved reading this book. It is a fascinating journey through Ram Dass’ life right up to his final moments before leaving his body. He writes with humility and is open about his failures and successes. As a whole, the book becomes a wonderful guide to the up and downs and pitfalls of life. Ram Dass imparts his knowledge and wisdom throughout. As a result the book is full of great insights and is certainly quote-worthy.

As a yoga teacher this is also a useful book. Ram Dass has a wonderful way of relating yoga practices and techniques to the challenges of daily life. He also draws from a vast array of sources from across different traditions.

The story of Ram Dass is one of turning on to different ways of thinking / living. Tuning in to eastern wisdom. Dropping out of the fluctuations of the mind to live in loving awareness. As Timothy Leary said “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out”. Ram Dass embodied the true meaning and intention of this oft quoted statement.

If after reading our Being Ram Dass book review you want to buy a copy, you can get it from Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Being-Ram-Dass-by-Ram-Dass-author-Rameshwar-Das-author/9781683646280

Being Ram Dass book review

If you enjoyed our ‘Being Ram Dass’ Book Review, check out these other resources:

Ram Dass’ website:

https://www.ramdass.org/

The Be Here Now network has some great podcasts to listen to;

https://beherenownetwork.com/

Here is a link to the Neem Karoli Baba ashrom taht Ram Dass helped establish:

https://nkbashram.org/

The SEVA foundation that Ram Dass set up to restore people’s sight:

https://www.seva.org/site/SPageServer/

Check out our other book review:

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson Book Review

In this blog “The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review” I will introduce you to this book, its author and hopefully why you might wish to buy a copy for yourself!

The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson is described on its front cover as “ravishing” by none other than Joanna Lumley. I would concur with this description. It is a lovely book with beautiful pictures, a personal love story to flowers and hens.

I purchased this beautiful book during the depths of winter for some colourful relief and inspiration for the coming growing season.

Arthur sets out his intention for the book;

“What I didn’t want this book to be was a heavy thing with tons of text. Elements of it, I hope, may prove to be of some practical use, but having myself amassed (like most gardeners) several shelves worth of books on the subject, I can divide them into two piles. One is for those that are for visual, inspirational use, much needed in the winter, and the other is for those that are practical and informative, often with very few pictures. This book is aimed at being in the first mentioned pile.”

Arthur sums up his approach to gardening as “Beautiful chaos is the look that is always wanted.” The pictures in the book show exactly this. Beautifully full beds, containers, dolly tubs and planters. The type of rich fullness behind which lies a great deal of hard work and creativity.

Arthur Parkinson – the author

Arthur is a young rising star of the gardening world and already has a good track record behind him. He details in his book his journey into gardening. Early inspiration came from visits to Chatsworth Estate, instilling a love of the gardens and the estate’s hens. Arthur’s father insisted he learnt a trade and young Arthur plumped for gardening. Training at college and Kew Gardens ensued.

Arthur became friends with one of his inspirations, Sarah Raven. On Sarah’s recommendation Arthur visited the Emma Bridgewater Pottery factory to inspect the garden there.

Gardener at the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory

Arthur visited the garden at the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory, discovering that it was fairly non-existent. He came to be the gardener at the factory and set to work creating a garden!

This is where the book becomes quite inspiring. Arthur had to build a garden upwards due to the industrial setting. Dolly tubs, galvanised animal troughs, raised beds, galvanised bins and more created the planting areas. Arthur explains that just because a space is small doesn’t mean you have to plant small plants. In fact, doing so just enhances the smallness of the area. He encourages planting of larger growing plants so that you feel as if you have worked into a rich and lavish garden dominated by fronds and petals.

Bare soil does not feature in Arthur’s plans for a garden. This is something I had not particularly considered despite being drawn to fuller looking gardens. The approach outlined in this book is to plant fully all spaces that you can with a wonderful succession of gorgeous flowers. In this way you can have cut flowers brightening up your house for a large part of the year. The garden at the factory provides beautiful flowers from early spring through to late autumn. Expertly planned successional planting is key here.

The pictures in the book of the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory garden are simply stunning. Enhancing the garden in many pictures are the beautiful rare breed hens that Arthur is equally fanatical about.

Inspiration and recommendation

Whilst Arthur’s intention for this book was to provide a delightful pictorial record of the gardens he has worked on, it also provides plenty of practical tips.

Arthur recommends many varieties of dahlias, tulips, alliums and many other of his favourite flowering plants. As I read this book I kept a pen and paper to hand and jotted down some of my favourite recommendations. As a result, I have ordered a number of dahlias. I always used to have dahlias in my garden at home as a child and I have no idea why I have not continued to grow them! This is being rectified this year! I’ve also purchased some interesting nasturtiums – it’s always a bit of a battle with my Dad about these at the allotment. I love them. He hates them. I am going to try and win him round this year with some colourful varieties. On the plus side they have a lovely peppery taste and are edible.

The book brims with recommendations for a range of different flowering plants. Enthusiasm for bee friendly flowers is present in a big way and I whole heartedly support this! Arthur also details suppliers and books he recommends.

I should also mention as part of this review that there is a chapter on hens. My purpose for purchasing this book was for the flowers but I have been wooed by the hens. They really are beautiful animals, particularly the breeds featured in this book. Unfortunately I do not have any space for hens – maybe one day.

I came to the book from a love of flowers and leave feeling love for hens!

My Own Experience of Gardening

Arthur makes some very interesting observations about how lacking school education is with regards to gardening and farming.

My own experience mirrors this. When I was in primary school I naturally gravitated towards the plants in the class room. My lovely teacher, Mrs Till encouraged me and made me plant monitor which involved looking after and watering the plants each day. Mrs Till presented me with a certificate for “The Boy with Greenest Fingers” at the end of the class year.

However, all that existed in the grammar school I attended was a voluntary nature / wildlife group. This group met infrequently to plant trees and clear wild blackberry vines. Other than planting a tobacco plant to see if we could observe acid rain burning its sensitive leaves, gardening did not exist on the curriculum.

I had my own plot of garden at home. In this plot I would grow lots of lupins, carnations and dahlias. I quickly discovered that I had “green fingers” and my enterprising brain soon saw me selling plants to school teachers. After all the school buses had ferried my fellow students home I would return to school chauffeured by my mum with the boot of her Datsun Cherry full of plants. I made some decent pocket money from this, selling boxes for £5 a time. Teachers would occasionally ask me to stay behind after class, not through any naughtiness on my behalf but to ask for some tips about their carnations!

I funded my hobbies of vintage scooters and records through gardening for older people in my local neighbourhood. Mrs Rees was a lovely lady who lived 5 minutes walk from my house. I gardened for her for many years and learnt so much from this gentle intelligent gardener.

Me and my parents

I was lucky to have been brought up by parents who loved the taste of fresh home grown vegetables. My father Graham and I have been helping each other grow vegetables for over 40 years now and counting! There is something very enriching and bonding about growing and working the land together. My dad brings his lifetime of knowledge, snippets of wisdom from “Treacle Toffee” Billy and other such characters that have crossed his path at the allotment. Having studied permaculture, I bring a different perspective to doing things. I also discovered Charles Dowding and his no-dig approach to growing vegetables. As a result this has revolutionised the way we approach the allotment plot.

Let me not forget my mum! Mum is a fantastic weeder. She clears a weed filled bed in no time at all. Mum also boasts super human strength when required and has been know to pull out trees with one hand!

In Summary, The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson Book Review

To quote Joanne Lumley, a “ravishing” book providing a wonderful splash of colour and inspiration. I have already spent a small fortune on ordering plants and seeds for the coming year. The entrance to my flat now features a lovely William Morris planter lasagne planted with tulips who are all peaking through ready to bloom and flourish as spring slowly arrives.

I have always loved gardening, having focussed in more recent years on vegetables in the allotment. Arthur’s book has reignited my passion for flowers and reminded me of my love for some that I had forgotten about.

I highly recommend this book. Both a beautiful coffee table book but also a useful book of recommendations and practical tips.

You can purchase a copy from Blackwells here: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Pottery-Gardener-by-Arthur-Parkinson-author/9780750992411

The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson

Having read our “The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review” blog you may be interest to know that Arthur has another book due out very soon. It promises to be another interesting and inspiring book. You can pre-order copies of it now. I’m a sucker for an autographed copy of things and you can get one from Sarah Raven’s website here:

https://www.sarahraven.com/gifts/gifts-by-type/sarahs-signed-books-1/arthur-parkinsons-the-flower-yard.htm

From Sarah Ravens website:

“The Flower Yard follows Arthur as he gardens through the seasons in pots. It is a beautifully visual yet personal and highly informative read on his love for bold colours, cut flowers and bees. The chapters provide a fascinating insight how he grows his garden and ensures a bold a brilliant show from his pots, treating the garden as if it is a stage by growing plants from seed and using bulbs on a huge scale, despite the gardens size and being in the middle of a town. This book will prove to be a tonic with over 200 photos taken also by Arthur and will be especially helpful for those with truly small gardens, patios and balconies who want floral exuberance and escape.”

Or you can get one from Blackwells here:

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Flower-Yard-by-Arthur-Parkinson-author/9780857839176

Further Resources

You can follow Arthur Parkinson via his instagram account at: https://www.instagram.com/arthurparkinson_/

Sarah Raven can be found here:

https://www.sarahraven.com/

Follow Charles Dowding and find out more about his No-Dig approach here:

https://www.instagram.com/charles_dowding/

https://charlesdowding.co.uk/

If you liked The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review be sure to check out our other book reviews here:

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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Be Here Now by Ram Dass – Book Review

I was prompted to purchase Be Here Now by Ram Dass after reading it had inspired David Williams. As a result of enjoying David’s book, I felt compelled to purchase a copy and read it myself. You can read my review of David Williams memoir by following this link: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/

Dr Richard Alpert aka Baba Ram Dass

I was aware of Ram Dass and that he had been part of the 1960’s counter culture and that he was linked to LSD. However, I did not know a great deal about him.

https://www.ramdass.org/consciousness-psychedelics/

The book is set out in 4 parts. Journey, from bindu to Ojas, cookbook for a sacred life and painted cakes.

The first part is about Dr Richard Alpert PhD and his transformation into Baba Ram Dass. Dr Alpert was at the height of his career and was living the idealised American dream. He had sports cars, his own aeroplane and was a prominent Harvard psychologist. Around this time he mentions he was drinking which masked his desire to find a deeper meaning in his life. It is clear that he felt that there was more to life than the material success he had achieved.

Whilst at Harvard, in 1961, he began to explore different states of human consciousness. Initially this was through the use of various psychedelic mind altering drugs. As a result of his experimentation with drugs he was sacked from Harvard University in 1963. The exploration of different levels of consciousness through the use of drugs continued. Ultimately this led him to Eastern philosophy and he made a life changing trip to India in 1968.

My own experience

The first part of this book resonated with me. Before becoming a full time Yoga teacher I worked in middle management in the civil service. I had a job that paid me well, we had a nice 3 bedroom semi detached house in West Kirby. However, the job that I was working in made me feel empty and unsatisfied. At some times it made me feel even worse than that, as if I was slowly dying inside. A period of work related anxiety was a mental catalyst to start thinking about changing my life.

I realised that I either needed to find ways to cope with the situation and the job I had or that I needed to make some changes. As a result I decided to make a change. The thing that was tying me to my job was the financial commitment of a mortgage. I received a letter from our mortgage company telling me that I would be 68 years old when we paid off our mortgage. This was a moment of awakening for me! The thought of working in the same job till I was 68 was not something I was prepared to contemplate. There had to be more to life than this. Working in a job that provided me with zero satisfaction or nourishment felt wrong.

What helped me cope became my vocation

I had been using Yoga for many years to help me cope mentally and physically with my job. So I felt compelled to become a yoga teacher to help others. Deciding to leave my job and career was still a difficult decision to make. It was interesting to observe the peer pressure from others that I worked with. Some colleagues could not comprehend that I wanted to leave, telling me “you are walking away from a good career.” Whereas other colleagues were envious and wished they could leave too!

In a nutshell, we downsized to a small flat that was more affordable and I applied for redundancy from work. This felt like such a massive relief. I vividly recall walking around the Marine Lake in West Kirby smiling and feeling quite elated and free.

Part 2 – From Bindu to Ojas

Part two of the book is a haphazard whistle-stop tour through spiritual themes from across the smorgasbord. It is interspersed with pictures and drawings. Because the book is laid out in the form of pictures and artistically placed text, the reader needs to really concentrate to actually read it. As a result you read it slightly more slowly and search out where the sentence flows. This causes the reader to savour the quotes and to pause.

This part of the book is a really rich source of some fantastic inspirational quotes and passages. Some of the ones that really jumped out and spoke to me were the following;

“When you have quieted your mind enough and transcended your ego enough you can hear how it reall is. So: when you are with a candleflame you are the candleflame and when you are with another being’s mind you are the other being’s mind. When there is a task to do you are the task. The mindless quality of total involvement that comes only when the ego is quiet and there is no attachment.”

“My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master”

“Just the process of calming, centering, centering, calming extricating myself from the drama.”

The third part of the book is a guide to how you can realise spiritual changes for your self. It covers a wide range of things from yoga postures to how much sleep you need.

The final part of the book is a rather vast list of books to find out more! This is a great resource. It provides a lifetimes worth of books to dive into.

Summary

This is a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. It is inspiring and wacky. The front cover which is a geometric mandala type picture, encapsulates the idea of interconnectedness. This is what this book is really about, connection. Connection to the true self.

The message is Be Here Now. Be here free from ego, from from thought, free from ideas about your self, free of your emotions. Mindfulness. Baba Ram Dass details how you can start to make changes to achieve this.

Be Here Now by Ram Dass is an authoritative Western explanation of Eastern philosophy. As a result it acts as a guide and manual for those wishing to find deeper meaning to their life. The eternal and simple message of Be Here Now perfectly sums up the crux of the practice.

You can purchase a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass from Blackwell’s which is a more ethical choice than Amazon;

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Be-Here-Now-by-Ram-Dass-author/9780517543054

Check out our other book reviews here;

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

 

Resources;

https://www.ramdass.org/

https://becomingnobody.com/

https://bhagavandas.com/

Here is a trailer for a short film on Netflix about Ram Dass towards the end of his life;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqYkUKcEBR4
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My Search For Yoga by David Williams – Book Review

A riveting “On the Road” style adventure for the Yoga Generation! My Search for Yoga by David Williams is an autobiographical account of the authors search for yoga. It starts at the tail end of the 1960’s and ends in 1977.

Who is David Williams?

My Search for Yoga by David Williams

David is the first person who taught Ashtanga Yoga in the West! He is a highly respected ashtanga yoga teacher and lives in Maui. I discovered David through one of his students and friends David Swenson. My own practice of Ashtanga Yoga is based around how David Swenson teaches. I love his Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual.

Being inquisitive, it took me to David Swenson’s teacher. As a result I discovered that David Williams was leading a workshop in Sitges. Sitges is just outside of Barcelona in Spain so basically on our doorstep compared to Maui! A few YouTube interviews reveal a gentle endearing soul. An “Aloha” catchphrase accompanied by a shaka surfer hand salute! We booked to go to Spain and then a world pandemic struck and lockdown.

Some friendly emails passed between David and I. As a result I purchased his recently written memoir, My Search For Yoga by David Williams!

The American Dream or Nightmare?

David’s journey towards becoming the Yoga Detective starts back in 1967 as a beach lifeguard in South Carolina. His version of the American dream is mapped out ahead of him, college, university, the legal profession, working 9-5, suburban life. The potential middle age spread and unhealthy older age. David desired another way, a different way to live life. The ever present risk of being drafted in to the Vietnam war existed in the background.

He meets his first “guru”, a fellow lifeguard called Bootie. Bootie imparts the following pearl of wisdom, which could only have been said in the late 60’s,

“….. you can do anything you want to do. You do not have to live a boring life like all the squares you have seen growing up.”

This spoke to David’s longing for an alternative lifestyle. The American counter culture at the time were embracing slogans such as turn on, tune in and drop out. Thankfully this was balanced with people that viewed the standard American dream as a dream. They successfully entered legal professions and other careers that keep society functioning. The equal and opposite lifestyles provide balance to our society. The rich tapestry of human individuality expressed through lifestyle. There is not just one way to live your life but a myriad of opportunities. David’s book encourages us to work out the path that is right for us.

Discovering Yoga

Whilst at the Uni of North Carolina, David comes across Yoga for the first time via a fellow student. Tales of Yogis free from the shackles of the material world fire his interest.

The first Yoga class David attended was at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in June 1970. The class was introduced as;

“Before you get high on drugs, why don’t you try getting naturally high with Yoga”

At this music festival David was also lucky enough to see one of Jimi Hendrix’s last performances! As a music fan I am certainly a bit envious of that!

The underground Yoga scene is interestingly documented. People practicing Yoga from books and the odd teacher here and there.

On the Road in Search of Yoga

After reading a Ram Dass book David sets his heart on travelling to India to learn Yoga. David and his girlfriend fly to Europe and then embark on an epic cross land journey. They travel around Europe and make their way to India via Afghanistan and Iran.

A search around India for Yoga ensues. Whilst staying at an Ashram he witnesses a demonstration of Ashtanga Yoga by Manju Jois.

Returning to the USA, David is determined to return to India to further his study of Yoga. Another road trip across Europe to India takes him and Nancy Gilgoff (his girlfriend) to Mysore.

The descriptions of travelling across Europe to Indian in the early 1970’s are engrossing. You feel like you are on the road with David. The places he travelled through in the early 70’s are places that it would be very difficult and scary to travel through in 2020.

Pattabhi Jois physical assault / inappropriate adjustments

On arrival in Mysore for the first time, David learns that a previous student had left with a broken leg. However, David has made an epic journey to get there and begins to learn Ashtanga Yoga from Pattabhi Jois.

David refers to Jois with the respectful title Guruji. He is indebted to him as his teacher. Learning Ashtanga yoga changed his life and set him on a trajectory on which he continues to this day.

On the last day of his first trip to Mysore, Pattabhi Jois seriously injured him. He was strongly “adjusted” in an advanced posture. David describes how his trusted teacher almost broke his back;

“The force of his adjustment compressed and rotated a vertebra in my lower back to the point that it punctured an intervertebral disc, the cushion between my vertebra.”

This is truly shocking to read. I was obviously aware of the serious allegations of sexual assault against Jois that have come to light in the last few years. The testimonies of those abused can be easily found on the internet and there is video footage which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Physical assaults and serious injuries that he inflicted on people in the name of adjustments were something that I was unaware of.

David does not address the abuse allegations in his book and I respect his right not to. This is David’s story of his search for yoga and the book would have a very different feel if it were to become an investigation into Jois. I have read elsewhere on the internet that David would warn people against going to Mysore.

David Williams – successful Yoga Teacher

The start of David’s journey to becoming a world renowned Yoga teacher is covered in his memoir. Let us remember here, he was the first Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the West! His make shift yoga Shala in Maui is where he went from strength to strength.

A 17 year old David Swenson is recruited to cover teaching at the Shala in Maui. David and Nancy return to Mysore where David learns the final series in the Ashtanga Yoga system.

A young Eddie Veder from Pearl Jam features. He was inspired to take up yoga after a demonstration given by David at his high school.

We should pause for a moment and realise that Ashtanga yoga is the source of the modern vinyasa style of yoga that is so popular around the world. David was the person to bring this flowing style of yoga out of India and to the west. Without David, the story and popularity of modern yoga could be very different.

Pattabhi Jois – Lazy by his own definition?

A very interesting detail in this book that jumped out to me is that Pattabhi Jois was not practicing yoga asana (physical postures). David meets Jois when the latter is 58 years old. At this point in his life Jois had stopped practicing yoga asana. He is still practicing pranayama. As a result I find it a little difficult to comprehend his dogmatic approach. Jois is oft quoted as saying;

“Ashtanga Yoga is for all people: old people, young people, fat people, skinny people only not lazy people.”

“Practice Yoga and all is coming”

“Yoga is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory”

Jois is therefore lazy by his own definition! The only time David Williams saw Jois demonstrate asana was a Sun Salutation B practiced incorrectly.

Jois’ lack of practice of asana is in stark contrast to his teacher Krishnamacharya and also his contemporaries such as B K S Iyengar. It is well documented that Krishnamacharya practiced yoga asana, pranayama and chanting until his death aged 100.

Whilst David was clearly very fond of his Guruji, I felt that Jois comes across as not a particularly likeable character. At times arrogant and not open to any kind of questioning of his methods. Jois was influential in spreading ashtanga yoga and training many people in this particular method. Perhaps that is the more traditional method of teaching, however, it does not stand up to scrutiny. It does not allow for any sort of open dialogue and is rather dictatorial. A way of learning that I certainly would not enjoy.

In Summary – My Search for Yoga by David Williams

This was a very enjoyable book to read. A real page turner. It is both a great document of a travel adventure but also a very significant historical record of one mans search for yoga in India. A search which resulted in Ashtanga yoga being brought to the West.

We have a copy of this book that you can purchase from us. This book is only available from David Williams. To purchase a copy directly from him would cost $155 (about £126) including deliver to the UK which is what bumps the price up. It takes around 6 weeks to arrive. We purchased 3 books from David. We are keeping one, have sold one to a friend. As a result we have one to sell and can sell it at £108 which includes UK postage.

If you would like to purchase a copy of this limited edition book please email us at enquiries@yogasmiths.org

Links

Check out David Williams website here: http://www.ashtangayogi.com/

If you enjoyed reading our review of My Search for Yoga by David Williams then check out our other book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

In David’s own words

David described his book to me as follows;

Aloha!

After over ten years in the works, I am excited to tell you that my book has arrived, and we have just begun shipping them. 

My Search for Yoga is my memoir. It focuses on the years between 1970 and 1977, telling my story beginning with my early fascination with yoga at age 20. That fascination evolved into my role as a “yoga detective,” searching in Europe, on two overland trips to India, and during the early days in the Carolinas, Florida, California, and Hawaii. My book includes many of the crazy stories (and more) that I have shared in my workshops over the years. It highlights the characters who were a part of my journey and the sometimes-hazardous, often wild adventures I experienced.

In addition to the stories of those days, my book documents the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus as originally taught to me by Pattabhi Jois as it appeared on the wall of his yoga shala when I arrived in 1973. I later demonstrated this in my complete Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus poster which is available on my website. 

The details: My Search for Yoga is a hardbound book measuring 9″ x 12″. It is 315 pages, weighs a little over 3 lbs., and has 132 color images that include the following:

90 color images from those early days

15 pages of my original documentation of the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus

12 letters from Pattabhi Jois (27 pages), written for him by various letter writers

Through my story, I hope my book will tell my part in the early history of how Ashtanga Yoga made its way out of Mysore, India, and into the lives of millions of practitioners around the world today.

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Gotta Get Theroux This – Louis Theroux – Book review

Gotta get theroux this book review

I have recently enjoyed reading Louis Theroux’s autobiography. The book was a kind gift from my friend Susan and it is a wonderful autobiography. I have always enjoyed reading autobiographies. Consequently, it is probably the genre from which I have read most. I hope you enjoy reading my Gotta Get Theroux This book review.

Who is Louis Theroux?

Most people know who he is! However, for those who do not know, Louis is a journalist and documentary film maker. He initially had a cult following. I think that saying he has a cult following does him a disservice. He is a stalwart of the BBC and has a very wide appeal. As such his status from cult to mainstream appeal transitioned quickly.

The documentaries he has made, seeking out weird, wonderful and often rather nasty subjects has created an unrivalled body of work. As a result his work will stand the test of time as an important body of anthropological study.

I am a big fan of Jack Kerouac and I wonder if Louis has read any of his books. The following Kerouac quote from On the Road could easily have been the criteria for the selection of subjects / guests featured in Louis’ documentaries;

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Gotta Get Theroux This Book review
Gotta Get Theroux This – Louis Theroux

Documentary maker and journalist

Louis’ journey into journalism and documentary film making is interesting. He did not set out with a burning desire to enter that world. Louis worked on a free alternative newspaper in Silicon Valley after graduating from university. Entry into the world of documentary making came through a one-off segment on the TV Nation show. This started a journey which continues today and has seen Louis win prestigious industry awards for his documentaries and work.

The journalistic and documentary film making profession comes with pressures. There is the need to keep creating interesting content and coming up with original ideas. Louis is open about his self doubt through his career and his feelings of being an imposter! An added layer of pressure which Louis acutely felt was from his father. Paul Theroux is a famous American Travel writer and novelist. The pressure stemmed from living in the shadow of an already established and successful parent. 

Louis adopts an interesting approach to his documentaries. He is very involved in coming up with the ideas and topics. The research team then go to work and undertake recce trips and arrange subjects. Louis has limited involvement in this side of production. His approach is to be fresh to the subjects so that the first meeting as filmed is the real deal. This is an approach that he picked up and developed from his time working with Michael Moore on TV Nation.

The subjects and topics covered by Louis are vast. Follow the link at the end of this review to check them out. 

Common humanity

Louis’ approach to documentary making and his interactions with people is always to try and see the rounded person. He never takes the approach of having preconceived ideas about people. In essence he approaches his subject with what, in Buddhism, is called beginners mind. It is this openness and blank page approach that clearly endears Louis to most of his subjects. Interestingly though, Louis does not give them an easy ride. He is ready to challenge his subjects with ease and ask those awkward questions at pertinent times.

Even with some of his most repugnant subjects he is able to show, even if only a glimpse, another side to people. Sometimes that may be a kind softer side or it can be a glimpse into the twisted justification for a particular view point or stance. Louis has an ability to draw out these deeper and more complex aspects to his subjects. Consequently his subjects develop as complex individuals rather than one dimensional. 

Louis reflects in the book on the complexity of human character. In his documentaries he shows that people are not 100% good or 100% bad. Louis reflects that is it not even a scale but something much more complex that creates individuals. 

Jimmy Savile

Louis addresses the issue of Jimmy Savile in this book. After his death, Savile was discovered to have been one of the most prolific sex offenders and abusers ever known.

Louis approached the initial documentary with the idea of finding out about Savile. The colourful, eccentric, quirky and downright odd ageing retired DJ and celebrity. The When Louis Met Jimmy documentary did reveal a slightly darker side to Savile but no hint of what subsequently came to light. As a result, Louis went through a period of self reflection, questioning how he was not able to unmask Savile.

Interestingly, Louis reflects that he at times liked Savile despite finding him quite annoying. They intermittently stayed in contact.

Louis revisited Savile in a subsequent documentary to both professionally and personally address the discovery of his crimes. In his book, Louis reflects that the qualities of Savile that made him likeable and charismatic were the qualities he used to hide his evil side. Qualities he used to evade discovery and capture during his lifetime. Louis reflects that we ignore these aspects of his character at our peril. We need to understand how Savile evaded capture. Retrospectively portraying him as a one dimensional character with a sole intent of pure evil could lead to us failing to understand the complexities of character that allowed him to go undetected. As such we risk failing to identify future such offenders.

It is clear that involvement with Savile had a profound effect on Louis. Sleepless nights, self reflection and self doubt ensued.

Scientology

It would be remiss not to mention Louis’ ‘My Scientology Movie’ in my Gotta Get Theroux this book review. Making this movie proved an interesting challenge for Louis. He was tailed by Private Investigators and there was clearly a feeling of threat.

The movie also marked a breakthrough into documentary film making. The film became very popular and received awards.

Concluding chapter

Gotta Get Theroux This finishes with a reflection on the human condition and just how weird it is to experience life! There is a strangely moving part where Louis revisits an old neighbourhood where he lived in Brooklyn. The passage of time having rendered the place unfamiliar and unrecognisable. In contrast, Louis is transported back to familiarity when he smells the unique aroma of the New York Subway.

Gotta Get Theroux This book review

I would highly recommend this book. It provides interesting background and insights into the documentaries that Louis made. As a result you get a window into how Louis felt towards his subjects and the ongoing relationship that a journalist has with their subjects. Sometimes that relationship will be enjoyable and friendly and other times it can be quite the opposite. The weight and pressure that difficult subjects heap upon the journalists involved is not to be underestimated.

I am left with the feeling that the Louis we see on screen is the Louis that you would meet should you bump into him in the street. An endearing, quintessentially British in character, nice guy. Keep up the great work Louis!

Links

If you enjoyed our Gotta Get Theroux this book review you can purchase a copy below. As a member of Amazon associates, we will earn a commission if you purchase the following items on Amazon from the links below;

Louis has started a BBC Podcast to help people during the Coronavirus lockdown, the first episode will be available very soon. You can access it through this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p089sjcd

Here is a link to all the documentaries that Louis Theroux has made, many of which are discussed in Gotta Get Theroux This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Louis_Theroux_documentaries

You can check out our previous book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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