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JAMES GEORGE’S NEW BOOK, REVIEWED BY JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO


The John Robert Colombo Page

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little-green-book

The Little Green Book on Awakening

A New Book by James George is Reviewed by John Robert Colombo

Barrytown / Station Hill Press is the imprint of a lively book publisher that has hitherto escaped my attention. This publishing company is located in the town of Barrytown in New York State’s historic Dutchess County, a comfortable distance north of New York City. The only surprising feature of Barrytown, besides hosting this lively publishing house, comes from the fact that the town, as small as it is, serves as the seat of the Unification Church’s Theological Seminary!

Here is how founders George and Susan Quasha describe their operation on the company’s website: “The mission of our Press is to seek out and publish exceptional, innovative, often ground-breaking works which challenge and expand conceptions of the possible by offering human alternatives in the arts, philosophy, alternative health and healing, eastern, western and shamanic spirituality, and social and ecological studies.”

The website arranges its numerous recent trade paperback publications in some thirty categories, ranging from Alternative Medicine to Women’s Issues. Here, almost at random but in alphabetical order, are the names of some of its leading authors: Paul Auster, George Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, John Cage, Robert Duncan, Clayton Eschelman, James Hillman, Anslem Hollo, Spencer Holst, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Osip Mandelstahm.

In listing these names, I find I almost neglected to mention the arresting name of the author of “Journey to the Ancestral Self.” Amazingly, the author’s name is … Tamarack Song! The catalogue describes Mr. Song in these words: “When Tamarack Song is not out communing with The Mother, it’s a pretty sure bet he’s either researching, writing, or talking about it. He and his family have a primitive Wigwam camp on a lakeshore in the Northern Wisconsin Forest.” And so on.

In the category of Poetry, there are original volumes by Cid Corman and Rosmarie Waldrop, and various reprints, including “America, A Prophecy,” an influential and important anthology edited by Jerome Rothenberg and George Quasha (coincidentally the co-publisher), I was disappointed when I checked the category of Sexuality. I found it empty, blank, nada! A strange (and I hope temporary) lapse.

Featured in the category for Ecology & Environment is a reprint of James George’s “Asking for the Earth” (originally issued by Element in 1995) as well as a brand new book of his which bears the title “The Little Green Book on Awakening.” I will review this new title, after offering some background information on its author.

James George is a distinguished Canadian career diplomat. In the 1960s he held the posts of High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to Nepal. After taking early retirement from the Department of External Affairs, he has devoted his energies and talents to the causes of environmentalism and ecology. I see him as being “our ambassador to the world of values.”

He has been no armchair activist, for he is actively involved in a number of relevant undertakings. He is a founder of the Threshold Foundation and former President of the Sadat Peace Foundation. He served on the International Whaling Commission, and he led the Friends of the Earth’s international mission to Kuwait to assess the post-war environmental damage. Here are some other achievements and associations: Lieutenant-Commander, Royal Canadian Navy; Chairman, Harmonic Arts Society; founding member, Rainforest Action Network, etc.

At junctures throughout his life he studied with Dzogchen masters in India and with Madame de Salzmann in Paris. While in the Far East he befriended the present Dalai Lama, then as now in exile in Northern India, and the two became fast friends. The Tibetan leader contributed an introduction to his first book.

One of his lesser-known accomplishments in India was arranging for Canadian technicians to microfilm unique manuscripts that had been secreted out of Tibet. The microfilming was done at the High Commissioner’s official residence in Delhi, no less! This is one of the many interesting stories told by Mr. George in his earlier book “Asking for the Earth” (the one reprinted by the present publisher). I believe the incident deserves to be widely known, if only because it shows everyone – Mr. George, the Dalai Lama, the Canadian Department of External Affairs, the Government of India – in a good light … everyone, that is, except the Chinese government.

The author is now in his ninety-first year, tall and erect, hale and hearty, with a razor-sharp mind. He has not let his head of flocculent hair and his abundant beard, as white as Ivory Snow, to slow him down. He travels widely to meet with study groups throughout North America. His home base is the eyrie in a Toronto condominium which overlooks the Rosedale district of the city where he was born the year the Great War ended. He is one of the three “grand old men” of the Work in Canada, the two other men being scientist and humanist Ravi Ravindra and veteran film-producer Tom Daly.

At his side stands his wife, Barbara Wright, whom I like to call “dynamic” because she is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. She is a veteran of Group Work in San Francisco. It is a shame that the Work scene in Toronto is so fragmented – otherwise it would engage the full resources of this formidable couple.

Mr. George’s prose is more descriptive than dramatic, more explanatory than expressive, though it cannot be bettered for its clear, unencumbered, reasonable, and sturdy style. Chogyam Trungpa called him “a wise and benevolent man, an ideal statesman.” Indeed, like the man, his writing is statesman-like: designed to convey a position, express conviction, allay doubts, and win friends. That is certainly the case with the prose of “The Little Green Book on Awakening.”

But before I describe the book’s contents, let me report on its physical appearance. It is a trade paperback, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, x+176 pages, ISBN 978-1-58177-112-1. It has a handsome cover that is green in colour – not to recall St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) but to celebrate Earth Day (April 12). It will be officially published to mark Earth Day. The list price is US $15.95.

Let me now qualify one point that I made above: that the “writing is statesman-like.” While that is true of the writing itself, the form that the prose takes in this book is that of the sermon. Here is a series of sermons or homilies rather than a sequence of essays or a succession of chapters of a book.

These are addresses that could be delivered to attentive and educated members of congregations in Anglican or Episcopal churches. The intent is high-minded, the tone is hortatory, and the anecdotes, insights, quotations, and references are such that they are meant to gently persuade audiences that the speaker knows and feels what is talking about and senses the urgency of his message.

And he does know his own mind, he is master of his message, and he is sincere. I have a few reservations about what he says – the reservations I have are mainly about what goes unsaid – but I am prepared to give Mr. George top marks for doing exactly what he has set out to do. If this book does not result in a multitude of converts to the cause of environmentalism, it will at least strengthen the resolve of the host of readers who were already converts.

In the title of the book, there is one word that gives me pause. That word is “little.” There is nothing little about this book. In fact, it is quite long, intelligently organized, seriously presented, and devoted to a subject of considerable, present-day importance. It is a “big” book the same way that “Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered” is a big book. I am referring to the influential work by E.F. Schumacher, the German-born, English economist and theorist, whose 1973 study did so much to supply a new, cultural context for the energy crisis that was then facing the Western world.

Mr. George is very much a latter-day Schumacher. who went on to publish “A Guide for the Perplexed” which places science and society in the context of the sacred. Schumacher was influenced by the thought of G.I. Gurdjieff; in a major way Mr. G.’s thoughts and practices are the underpinnings of Mr. George’s life and his work. It is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that Mr. George wants to do for the ecology crisis what Schumacher did for the economic crunch of the 1970s.

If I am able to summarize this book in one word, that word is: “awakening.” But I can do better by summarizing it in six words: “awakening to consciousness and climate change.” This summary should come as no surprise to those people who know Mr. George who will read this book – or who are now reading this review of it.

As I read it, there kept reverberating in my mind that touchstone line of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “You must change your life.” The only point Mr. George might add is the following sense of urgency:”Thereafter you must change your world – and quickly!”

Rilke goes unquoted in these pages. Indeed, literature plays hardly any role in the arguments of this book, which is one way for me to make the observation that the role of the human imagination in the construction and deconstruction of the world – in its enchantment and disenchantment – is barely noted. Maya and sleep and illusion and imagination go hand in hand. The author uses other than literary arguments to make his points.

I think the book will be reassuring to those readers who wish to be reminded of the relevance of spiritual values to the salvation of souls, but more urgently perhaps to those vitally concerned with the precarious state of the world today, politically and ecologically. The natural world is being threatened as never before. The author’s vocabulary is contemporary and up-to-date – replete with references to “tipping points,” the brain’s “neuroplasticity,” Mother Teresa, Al Gore, Lester Brown, quantum physics, implicate order, Gaia, etc.

Allow me to compress the book’s arguments, to convey a sense of the ground that is covered. There are eighteen chapters, so here are eighteen sentences, one to summarize each chapter:

1. Our inner life and our outer life need to be reconciled through “the WAY of NOW.”

2. Man’s spiritual crisis is the root-cause of the social and environmental crises that today threaten all life-forms on our planet.

3. We are asleep to ourselves and our world; unless we awaken, we accomplish nothing.

4. Global warming threatens our very survival; we must reign in our self-serving selves.

5. The ecological crisis is at core a spiritual crisis.

6. Conscious evolution will occur through a coalition between thinking ecologically and thinking spiritually.

7. Only a sense of presence will “unbury” our conscience.

8. Science will have to develop a paradigm that allows for the evidence of scientific research along with the testimony of personal experience.

9. We need to release through inner work the potential powers of love, both affectionate and amative.

10. The ecological urgency, facing our generation in particular, is such that we have no fall-back position.

11. The grand evolution of consciousness in the cosmos requires on this planet the burgeoning of human consciousness.

12. The effects of global warming may be mitigated by efforts of international co-operation, inspired by an innovative thinker like Adam Douglass Trombly, a follower of R. Buckminster Fuller.

13. We must learn to be responsible for the problems we have created, and we should be aware of possible assistance from “off-planet cultures” identified with UFOs.

14. Scientific thinkers regard consciousness as a byproduct of man’s brain, whereas spiritual thinkers regard Consciousness as proof of the wholeness of man, nature, and the cosmos.

15. We have yet to appreciate that the field of Consciousness engulfs us all, a ground or plenum called by Ervin Laszlo “the Akashic Field.”

16. Real change follows recognition of the seven levels of Consciousness from the highest to the lowest.

17. There seems to be among mankind today an increasing acceptance of the paradigm of interconnectedness with the greater whole.

18. Yes we can, if we work together.

Then there is an epilogue about “awakening awareness” and the text of Al Gore’s 2007 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, followed by a reading list and a viewing list.

By reducing each chapter to a single sentence, I risk turning Mr. George’s arguments into a series of clichés, but I assume the reader will take my word for it that the expected conclusions are not haphazardly handled, but are intelligently (perhaps consciously) evolved, so that reading the book is rather like turning the pages of a primer or a handbook on the relationship between (very generally) state of mind-spirit and state of society-nature.

If there is a sentence that epitomizes the argument of the book as a whole it could well be this quotation from Mohandas K. Gandhi: “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed.” If there is a problem that the book presents, it is the fact that while many desirable principles are stated, with intellectual backing and with a commendable sense of urgency, all the counter-arguments are absent.

Now I am not knowledgeable enough about ecological thought to have at my fingertips the counter-arguments of the nay-sayers to global warming – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were always inviting scientific scoffers or critics of global warming to visit the White House – but their names (or more important their arguments) do not cross these pages.

Yet I do have at my fingertips the counter-arguments behind the intriguing chapter that deals with “off-planet cultures” identified with UFOs. The chapter opens with a well described account of the author’s experience (shared by one other person) at his cabin on McGregor Lake, Quebec, late summer of 2002. There they observed the play of a mysterious light in the night sky, a light that seemed to be responsive to their thoughts. Later, the chapter closes with the suggestion that there exist “Extra Terrestrials,” intelligent alien entities or powers that may be in communication with us, a form of extra-solar grace or baraka, I suppose.

Between the author’s personal account and his tentative conclusion, there is information about UFOs taken from public opinion polls, word-of-mouth, television producers, former Ministers of National Defence, etc. But there is no critical literature cited, despite the existence of interpretive studies of all aspects of the UFO phenomenon by astronomer Carl Sagan and other physicists, psychologists, and sociologists.

Indeed, the sense of interacting with a light, a big star, or a “circular craft” is not unknown in ufology – or in the literature of Polar exploration, where the Inuit and explorers have described how they felt themselves in communion with nocturnal lights that were responsive to their thoughts – they would snap their fingers and the lights would be extinguished, etc. Psychologists have reasoned explanations for such phenomena, and also for the sense of personal elation it generates.

I am pausing over this chapter, admittedly a personal and a speculative one, is because it illustrates how it is possible to advance agreeable positions without weighing the pros and the cons of the relevant research on the subject. Assertions are fine on their own, but only become super-fine when accompanied by reasoned argumentation.

That single qualification aside, “The Little Green Book on Awakening” should take its place on the shelves of books written by Schumacher, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Ward, R. Buckminster Fuller, Jared Diamond, and Al Gore … not to mention the works about the Work.

There is an old Ontario folk-saying that I recall from my childhood. It goes like this: “Disaster precedes reform.” I hope that there are enough readers of “The Little Green Book on Awakening” so that it is not necessarily so.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist whose latest book is a collection of poems titled “A Far Cry.” This fall will see the publication of “The Big Book of Canadian Hauntings,” the companion to the already published “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.”

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