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Favorite Spiritual Books Inspire And Surprise You

Recently, three of New York’s most beloved teachers revisited their own collections to remember favorite characters and the plots that inspires spiritual thought long after the last page. These choices may surprise you. Come along for this literary journey with Genny Kapular, Anneke Lucas, Tamar Samir, and myself – I got into the spirit of it.

--Ann Votaw

Author: Mark Doty

Pages: 80 pages

“Early in the summer, while awaiting the birth of a granddaughter, I read Mark Doty’s book-length essay/prose poem, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy. It is a small, beautifully written plunge into the depths of the mind as he looks at a Dutch still life


As he discusses the feelings, thoughts, and memories evoked by the painting, I hear echoes of my own life and yoga practice—the constant learning about myself and my world as I look more carefully and attentively at my body and mind in each asana, or observe my mind state as I switch hands in nadi shodhana.

Looking at beauty, like embodying the body in asana, lifts the spirit. Reading this book was very easy because the writing was so clear and resonant. The change it made in my own perceptions remains with me many months later.”

Author: John Irving

Pages: 617

"IF GOD GAVE ME THIS VOICE, HE HAD A REASON." These are Owen’s words, in A Prayer for Owen Meany. His dialogue is written in capital letters to express the unique quality of his voice — a loud, piercing, childlike falsetto. Narrated by Owen’s friend, John Wheelwright, the book describes their close friendship from childhood to adulthood.

Owen felt from an early age that he was chosen to fulfill a specific life saving mission for God. Together with John, he prepares for this mission, by practicing repeatedly and perfecting “the shot”, a custom slam-dunk basketball move. I first read the book in the 90’s, on a John Irving reading kick, and it has stayed in my mind ever since. What stuck with me

was Owen’s unshakeable faith in himself and the meaning of the circumstances in his life. Owen’s small stature, his weird voice and big ears — features which might be considered undesirable — all end up being essential in his divine mission.

As a yogi, this novel illustrates the concept of personal dharma; the idea that each of us has a specific spiritual and moral duty to uphold in the world. Although our lives seem to arise from circumstances beyond our control, we can shape our present lives (and future lives) with faith, courage, optimism, and determination.

There are many messages in the book that resonate with current political events, specifically a deep disappointment and disillusionment with American politics and the American way of life. The narrator moves from New Hampshire to Toronto in disgust. One of many inspiring messages in this book: “If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

Book: Pericles

Author: William Shakespeare

Pages: 80 pages

“After having been sold as a child by my parents into a murderous sex trafficking ring, and my dramatic rescue, I found myself drifting from the age of 14 on, determined not to fall into prostitution. At the age of 19 I was living in Paris, and after someone mentioned Shakespeare's Pericles, I read the play. From the very first verse, I was riveted. Right in the

prologue, Shakespeare addressed the subject that informed my entire life, yet was completely taboo, and I could not talk about it. It was as if he had been writing just to reach me across the ages, speaking directly to my soul. I might have felt very lonely and isolated, but it was as if he was one who could truly understand me. From that moment on, I took comfort in the knowledge that Shakespeare, whose works' depth and breath touched on the truth of my tragic personal experiences, would have been able to hold the full weight of my story. This play was my first introduction to yoga:

Pericles Act I speaks of incest, and I strongly identified with the abused girl, and the only power she possesses in a man's world as a sexual object. I also strongly identified with Pericles' daughter's character Marina, who at the age of 14, when she is to be killed, is instead kidnapped and sold to a brothel. However, she stands up against her pimps and johns, lecturing them, which is exactly what I had done in my childhood with my abusers. In the play, the incest-perpetrator is king Antiochus and it is a lord named Lysimachus who visits the brothel prepared to buy the 14 year old virgin. My abusers, similarly, were leading politicians and aristocrats.

It is unfortunate and speaks to Shakespeare's own limitation and the sexist prejudice that endures today, that the incest victim is referred to as a "bad child." The 14 year old virgin Marina, however, is not raped - only because she speaks up. At the time I read this play, I had not begun my healing journey, and the unbelievable notion that a girl would not be raped only because she eloquently speaks her mind, only reinforced my shame and guilt. The truth was that my speaking out against the members of the ruling class who abused me, only put into relief the nobility they lacked, and I was hated and abused more sadistically for it.

While in Shakespeare's play the nameless incest victim is called "bad," her father King Antiochus is called "worse." The mention of the subject, the denouncement of the father's act and subsequent castigation and whistleblowing by Pericles were the most outspoken validation of my painful past I had ever received at the time.”

Finally, Pericles assumes King Antiochus will create war to divert attention from his dark secret - a controversial truth that may merit us to question our political leaders deeper motives, and their thirst for status and power.

Having read Pericles, and trusted that my story could see the light of day, it opened the door to personal growth, which is one and the same as the spiritual path. I was able to enter therapy, because I possessed a blueprint of my healed self - fully heard, seen and understood. My conviction carried me all the way to the faith I have today, as I offer understanding to others who may feel, as I did, isolated and misunderstood, in the jails and prisons in the US.

Name: Ann Votaw

Book: The Stand

Author: Stephen King

Pages: 1,153

“In The Stand, scientists create a weaponized flu that wipes out 99.4 percent of the Earth’s human and animal population, from monkeys in Central Park Zoo to millions stalled in traffic. Television personalities drop dead during telecasts. Fringe leaders execute studio audience members during “Dialing for Dollars.” Yet some are immune and manage not to die through violence or suicides. How these “immunes” find each other – through collective dreams – help them build two new societies, the peaceful collective in Boulder and the corrupt alliance in Las Vegas. All characters – including a faithful Irish Setter -- must face the Dark Man. As King knows, spiritual teachings can be their most potent during times of trauma. I found myself sobbing when Bronx musician, Larry Underwood, overcomes his worst thoughts and taunts the devil himself. I will fear no evil, he says to himself. For me, these have become words to live by.

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