Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Avenues of the Human Spirit by Graham Nicholls

Review: Avenues of the Human Spirit

by Graham Nicholls


Book review by Bob Peterson

Sunday night I finished reading Avenues of the Human Spirit by Graham Nicholls and here's my review.

A few months ago, I discovered and read the book Navigating the Out of Body Experience by Graham Nicholls, and I enjoyed it very much. Later, I discovered it was actually his second book, and that he had written an earlier book called Avenues of the Human Spirit. Naturally, I had to get it.

Avenues is not about out-of-body experiences, so if that's what you're looking for, get his second book instead. This book is about the author's personal journey to discovery. It's about spirituality, and where his OBEs have led him. It's about his rejecting the distractions, the violence, and the "noise" that fills so many people's lives, to discover the spiritual, the sacred, the silence.

This book really resonated with me. The reason is: My path was very similar and I did a very parallel thing. Like Nicholls, I too started out with OBEs, and they led me on a journey of learning, spirituality, and discovery. I chose to write my OBE book first, and my "journey of spirituality" book, Lessons Out of the Body second, whereas Nicholls did it in the opposite order, writing Avenues of the Human Spirit first.

The book starts out with an ordinary kid, growing up in inner-city London. (I grew up in inner city Minneapols). He had a few decidedly paranormal experiences as a child (do did I). He gets mixed up in decidedly worldly problems and distractions (so did I). Then he discovers OBE, and it turns his life around. Suddenly he starts to see the importance of spirituality. He begins to read books and engage spiritual teachers. He starts to reject the social norms of his parents and community; embracing things like meditation, OBEs and vegetarianism.

In some ways, Nicholls reminded me of the young Parmhansa Yoganada, the famous author of Autobiography of a Yogi, who eschewed the ways of his parents and kept running away from home at an early age to find God and pursue a spiritual life.

There's another way Nicholls and I are alike: although he had friends along the way, much of his spiritual discovery was done alone. He didn't inherit his spirituality from other spiritual or psychic traditions. He didn't study under a spiritual master. He took guidance from a few sources, like Herbie Brennan, but it wasn't the focus of the book. Much of his spiritual path was carved out of the forest by his own hand (and sometimes in a literal forest).

I liked his prose. The book was well-written, insightful, and mature. A better word might be "deep". I like "deep." It was chock full of notable quotes. So many quotes that I could scarcely choose. Here's one:
When we reclaim our awareness and walk the streets and byways with open eyes we shift ourselves into a new way of being. There is no technique to spiritual transformation, there is only a revolution within the life we lead, a tangible move towards liberation. There is a choice to remove the unnecessary, the stuff we have learnt to depend upon, and to embrace the things that awaken something deeper in your life.
That, in a nutshell, is part of why I loved this book: Nicholls's never-ending quest for something deeper in life. Here's another notable quote:
It is not through a philosophical change that spirituality truly grows, it is through direct contact with something greater than we could imagine before.
There is the value of direct spiritual experience; not being content with reading someone else's philosophy or going to someone else's church; not being a follower, but finding your own path.

Part of the charm of this book is the references to travel. Like Nicholls, I've been on many trips (physically as well as astrally!). In fact, I've got many travelogues and photos on my website. And his book captures the charm of travel, within a spiritual context. Here's another quote:

Travelling holds the key to renewal and inspiration; the new and the unknown open our perceptions, challenge and mould us into new forms.
I also like his attitude towards knowledge and ignorance:
In my own attempt to outline a spiritual philosophy I have held in the forefront of my mind the belief that these ideas will grow and evolve over time. I also remember the humility of not knowing. When we approach any knowledge I believe it is extremely important to have the humility to say you don't know. There are many ideas about spiritual and psychical reality but the best position is to be aware that we might not be correct in our perception of reality. In fact we should be aware that it is actually highly likely that we are wrong.
Very well put! Or as the Styx song "Borrowed Time" puts it, "The more I learn, well, the less that I know." We all start out young and innocent. When we find "The Truth" it's tempting to think that you've got all the answers.  And it's tempting to want to teach others. But the deeper you probe, the more you discover your own ignorance. Eventually you reach a point where you want to throw up your hands and think, "It's useless for me to teach anyone anything, because the truth is so far beyond me, it's impossible to comprehend." Later, you come to the realization that you've been travelling along the same road as millions before you, and you've just been reading the signposts. Later still, you see the value of sharing what the signs say to others, with the full knowledge that the story will change. The signpost you read ten years ago will be made obsolete by another, and another, and another. And yes, it makes you humble to realize your own ignorance.

It boils down to what the Tao Te Ching says: "Those who know do not teach. Those who teach do not know." And "The Way that can be taught is not the Way." Still, there is value is shining a light to illuminate your path for others to see, even if you know it will be useless to both you and them in ten years.

Do I agree with everything the author says in this book? No, of course not, but that's not the point. The point is to see beyond the entrapments of this physical world and reach for something deeper.

Avenues of the Human Spirit is a very good book, and I recommend it. If you're expecting it to be an OBE book, it is not. But I can say the same thing for my own book, Lessons Out of the Body. In both books, the OBE may be a catalyst, and can provide lessons, but both books are collections of personal spiritual tales. They put an emphasis not on OBE, but on the spirituality and where the OBE can lead us. It's not about the experience, but the journey along the way.

2013 June 11

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