Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review - The Holy Man

The Holy ManThis book is sometimes classified in self-help or inspirational. It's an interesting take on each of this. It brings some cool insights and ideas but does so in an intriguing way. Apparently, the idea for this book grew out of the pre-sleep practices of the author during bouts of insomnia (or at least, times of difficulties falling asleep). She imagined a long line of individuals winding up a mountain path to visit a Holy Man.

Exploring the idea of turning it into a story, she includes the expected anecdotes and Confucius-style quips of advice but goes beyond that. About half of the focus in the book is spent following specific individuals as they slowly traverse the long line up the mountain. The trek up the mountain usually takes a number of days and thus each would-be-visitor spends hours and days introspectively preparing for the visit, dealing with their own individual demons (alcohol withdrawal, impatience, sense of entitlement, etc) such that by the time they reach the home of the Holy Man, they have often come to their own solution to their problem and merely thank the Holy Man and go on their way.

The other half of the focus naturally focuses on the Holy Man himself. His own introspections. His interactions with the various individuals. Those who visit take three basic forms: 1) Those who don't even recognize him for who he is and move on quickly. 2) Those who have solved their problems on the way up the path. and 3) Those who he sits and talks to either to gain insight in how their problem was solved or how it could be solved.

The methods and advice of the Holy Man are simple and easy to understand, but (as sometimes indicated by the complaining visitors) are either too simple (and thus they don't think they'll work) or too hard to the extent that the visitor doesn't actually want to undertake the required effort.

The Holy Man refers occasionally to different tenets of various religions but his advice and comments are non-denominational. The most detail I noticed were some references to New Testament comments from Christ. But there were also references to other non-Christian religions and even some general comments that could almost be taken as atheistic. The Holy Man indicates that while religion can be helpful to an individual, it can only truly work if the individual has a true sense of self and understanding of why they need the religion and how it applies to them individually. Just accepting a religion won't help anybody if they don't also have an understanding of who they are, their own needs, their own strengths/weaknesses, and their own scope in life and the eternities.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a simple read. Many of the individual stories are compartmentalized such that a single chapter (or sometimes two or three chapters) can be used as exemplar for a specific topic.of advice and insight. Each chapter has a title that corresponds to its general theme. So the book can be used for quick nuggets of inspirational advice. Reading the story as a whole (or just the first and last chapters) provides a higher level story of the Holy Man and his trajectory.

One of the key pieces of advice that the Holy Man gives to everyone is that "we are all Holy. I am Holy and you are Holy. And we should treat everyone with this understanding in mind." As we apply this to ourselves, it not only gives a new perspective on life and the people around us, but it also allows the entire book and the story of the Holy Man to act as an allegory for our own life. If we are all Holy, then surely, the thoughts/path/advice/trajectory within his life apply to us just as well.

If you're interested in a quick, creative, fun, inspiration read, I can recommend this book. The style is simple and accessible while also being insightful. It's delightful and profound without being presumptuous or pretentious.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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