Review of Light and Shadow 7-3-20

Following is a review of my novel by a Books Online reviewer; note that he rated my novel at a 4 out of 4.  Apparently, that’s rarely done! :

Into Light and Shadow: A Journey is a work of fiction in the spiritual, introspective, and life story sub-genres and was penned by author Dave Gordon. Told in an on-the-road journey style of narrative flow, this intriguing and heartfelt novel chronicles the life and times of Steve Forrest as he attempts to climb Mount Everest, claiming a top achievement after a long line of others in his time. But when the mountain looms and threatens to destroy everything Steve has ever known, this sparks a new spiritual journey exploring both Buddhism and Steve’s Christian past, with the enigmatic and wise Father Jack at his side.

Author Dave Gordon has crafted a slow-burning, well developed, and philosophical read which offers much wisdom and storytelling in its grand literary tradition. One of the things which I most enjoyed about it, particularly for a novel of this genre, was the fact that the dialogue did not simply cut and paste lines from ancient wisdom, but was actually realistically laid out to discuss the deeper issues and conflicts between what we think we know, and what spirituality offers us on a higher level. Along with this, Steve and Jack are well-formed characters who each carry authentic and emotive perspectives on life, and their interactions drive the plot forward to new levels of feeling and understanding. What results is an enlightening read that will surely engage philosophical minds looking for a slower-paced, more literary novel, and I would certainly recommend Into Light and Shadow: A Journey to them.

my brain & spirituality

The first event that got me wondering about my relationship to my brain  was my root teacher telling me that she couldn’t see a gap between me and enlightenment any more.  This was at one and the same time great news, but also depressing: where was it, then?  At that time, I didn’t realize how far I had to go.

“Koans” then became interesting, and still are.  For instance, I kept remembering the phrase “there is no surplus or lack” from a chant we do in the zendo at the monastery.  (Unless otherwise noted, the monastery is Tassajara, inland in the Vedanta Wilderness from Monterey, CA).  It kept pestering me until it became visceral, because it didn’t make any sense.  (Please note that I soon began to completely distrust my brain’s ability to understand anything having to do with spirituality).  When it became visceral, I understood that with the relative and the Universe being One, there could not possibly be any “surplus or lack”, since the Universe is infinite potentiality, therefore manifestation can be infinite, too.  As this progressed, there were a number of other “koans” where a problem would come up, and then I’d be pestered by it until I had a visceral understanding of the problem.

One of these was a phrase I ran across in Adyashanti’s Emptiness Dancing: “Enlightenment is the complete lack of any resistance to what is.  Period.  End of story.”  I immediately said to myself, “there’s no way that’ll ever happen to me”.  Then one day Gabe (Cruden, Loren’s son, and my avowed “adopted” son) pointed out to me that I had already made that change.  Even though that didn’t make any sense, I immediately knew it was true.  But how could that be?  A change that massive was not even noticed by my brain, let alone explained?

At that point, I went around for some weeks thinking, “You just keep thinking, brain, that’s what your good at”.  The line is spoken by Sundance to Butch Cassidy in the movie.  In my case, my brain had definitely  completely missed one of the most momentous changes in my life.  What else had it missed?  What was it missing right now?  And how were the changes occurring?  It seemed to me this was a new mechanism for change, not just a lot of new changes.

As for the last question, eventually I realized that the changes were very subtle over quite a span of time, and above all, they came from the inside and spread outward.  In that respect, they were in complete keeping with “swallowing the molten iron ball.” They were tectonic plate shifts that affected me from my True Nature outward, but without a ripple on the surface.



After birth, babies and parents meet.  What’s mysterious about this is the way babies respond to their mothers’ (and to a lesser extent, fathers’) faces.   They lock on.  And then, if the mother’s heart is open and her mind attentive to her baby, the process of attunement begins: a non-verbal interaction between mother and baby.  This process can be delightful for both mom and baby, and it’s absolutely crucial to both in the coming months and years.  It’s crucial to the baby, as s/he cannot verbalize needs and wants to the mother.  The mother, in turn, needs the intimate connection to her baby so that she can provide her/his needs.  I also postulate that mothers need that connection so that they’re capable and willing to provide the 24/7 care an infant needs.

In his book review of A General Theory of Love, Kirk Honda writes: “Infants have an instinctual attraction to faces and a pre-programmed understanding of facial expressions (p. 61).  This multitude of inborn brain structures encourages survival by fostering a bond between parent and child, so the child may be protected and taught by the parent.  Along these lines, research has found that a lack of nurturing love will damage the human brain forever (p. 89).  Grim evidence of this can be found within findings that extreme emotional deprivation can even cause infant death (p. 87).  Human children are pre-designed for attachment and they need it for biological and practical survival.”

But even before birth, mother and baby are deeply interconnected through the mother’s heart.  In his book The Biology of Transcendence, A Blueprint of the Human Spirit, Joseph Chilton Pearce cites the research of the Heart Mind Institute into the “torus”, an electromagnetic field generated by the human heart that can be detected twelve feet away.  The mother uses her torus to regulate her baby’s heart in utero, and again while nursing her baby.  There’s even research that indicates that since human mother’s milk is so thin the baby needs to be fed at least every four hours, feeding enhances the bond of mother and baby, as well as the growth of the baby’s heart and brain.

Attunement also seems to function in the speech of human adults.  An old study put the percentage of non-verbal communication at 93%, with verbal at just 7%.  However, that ratio only seems to apply under certain circumstances.  For instance, in an email verbal communication would have to be rated much higher than non-verbal, while face-to-face communication could be rated closer to that old study.  Perhaps the old ratio is most useful when our subconscious is constantly monitoring other people’s non-verbal communication: tone,

facial expression, body language, syntax, emphasis, and so on, during speech. Some psychologists refer to it as the ‘adaptive unconscious’; more recently, it’s been linked to ‘limbic resonance’. Our subconscious almost immediately picks up conflict between the words being said and the nonverbal stuff. However, it may or may not be able to get our attention to let us know there’s something wrong. First, we may not be focusing on the other person’s communication because we’re too busy waiting for them to shut up so we can tell them what we think. Second, it’s the subconscious trying to let us know there’s something wrong.

That’s a very small voice trying to get our attention, so a lot of the time we ignore it, at least during communication.

One of the most interesting thoughts I have about attunement is called “transmission” in Buddhism.  It’s supposed to be a “mind-to-mind” transmission, so it sounds a lot like attunement.  In Rinzai Zen, which uses koans to help a student achieve enlightenment, if a student verges too much into words when trying to communicate the essence of a koan, his teacher will dismiss him by ringing his bell, a nonverbal communication of “get out of here, you’re wasting our time”.  I can see a lot of focused, intense meditation coming up for that student.

Introduction and Conflict Resolution


I am a Jesuit-trained, lay-ordained Zen Buddhist monk.  For me, the Perennial Tradition resonates intimately: at the height (or depth of complete silence and stillness) of spirituality, all of the world’s great religions realize the same ineffable Truth.  Perhaps one way of expressing that comes from Lao Tzu, the sage of Taoism, when he commented on the nature of the Tao: “He who says does not know; he who knows cannot say.”

As a boy, confronted with the Baltimore Catechism, I had problems with religion.  The question is asked: “What is the purpose of your life?”  The dogmatic answer: ”to know, love and serve God.”  If you visualize God as some bearded, muscular strongman who smites people when they don’t follow the Law, then… good enough?  It wasn’t for me.  “Where’s this God guy?”  I asked.  A priest smiled condescendingly and answered: “In heaven, of course.”  “Where’s that?” I pressed.  He frowned.  “You get there when you die,” he said.  I was unconvinced.  Finally, in 1964, I realized I had to find a new path.  I’d been raised by two women, and the Church’s idea of women as primarily baby factories was a shameful put-down on half the earth’s population.  But I did more harm before finally leaving the Church in the fall of 1968, and became, in the parlance of the twenty-first century, a “none”.

So this blog is meant to serve the spiritual seeker in an interesting time…



Conflict Resolution and the Shadow


So how do we deal with people who are so obnoxious that they drive us nuts?  Conflict resolution theory has an answer, but in order to understand it you have to go back to before you were confronted with the conflict.

That theory posits that before you were confronted, you were already in conflict but not conscious of it.  Your conflict stems from not wanting to face some unconscious loathing of certain characteristics in yourself.  Then when you meet someone who is acting out in the very way that you abhor, the conflict inside you becomes manifest.  Your first and continuing reaction is fight or flight: get me away from this person, I never want to see them again; or, I’ll take care of this with a solid punch to the nose!

But according to conflict resolution, conflict is Nature’s way of helping you see and then deal with your deepest Shadows, but you obviously cannot use the gift you’re given if instead you use fight or flight in response to the person acting out your nightmare.

In addition, you can usually assume that the person you’re in conflict with has no idea that you abhor their behavior, not them.  Of course, most people will react to dislike or hatred (from you) with more of the same, so conflict of some type becomes likely.  In one class I attended on this matter, an attendee would sit in a chair and recount the conflict they felt with another person.  As they did that, the instructor, standing behind their chair, would lower a mirror in front of them, so that they could see that it was their own internal conflict they were facing.

Going deeper, Aura Glaser, in a piece called “Into the Demon’s Mouth”, says this:

“Our capacity to turn toward whatever scares or repels us, and remain present with it, depends on our access to inner goodness. When we are able to connect with this ground of inner goodness, it brings a level of confidence and ease that can embrace our full humanity in all its complexity. Without that, we won’t be able to stay with whatever’s arising.”

“…Transitioning into this fourth stage requires a bone-deep commitment to honesty. We really have to be willing to look at ourselves, and this takes guts. We aren’t going to run away even if we see a demon staring back at us in the mirror. We are going to stick with ourselves no matter what, because we are more interested in what is true than in what is comfortable.”  (You can access the whole six-page essay at <>.)

Kirkus review

Kirkus Review published a review of the novel on their webpage; they complained that the characterization of the people wasn’t done well.  I find that odd; Brian Doonan, my editor, does too.  Of all the things that could be criticized in the novel, that one doesn’t seem valid.


A Story Idea from a Dream

A Story Idea from a Dream

Advice in Dreams

 story idea from a dream imageA story idea from a dream came to me to write a novel. Advice in dreams often comes to us . We need to listen. You may ask, what do recurring dreams mean? This was a recurring dream about a novel I should write. A recurring dream usually states something very important in your life that you need to examine, to look at, to act upon. It can be something very scary, or just the opposite. This is the dream world. But the dream returned, waking me up a number of nights, until finally, to gain some peace, I started this novel .

A Story Idea from a Dream

I’d long before concluded that I never wanted to write a novel.  I was not happy about this dream impulse. I felt that ego was pushing me to write because it wanted to be rich and famous. Ego often rushes us into useless pursuits. But this dream kept coming back, and so I started the novel. Months after I had been writing, and started to get into it deeply, and started to love what I was doing,  I realized that maybe such a novel would fire up a mature dialog about the nature of human spirituality. I don’t know if that will happen, but it is my deepest and most sincere wish for this work, Into Light and Shadow.


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