Reviewed by Susan Ravagni, Author of I'm Just a Girl and reviewer for BookPleasures
Is there some ancient, dare I say sacred, wisdom to which we should return? Self-described journeyman and journalist, Stephen Gray gives a resounding, "YES".
In Gray's exceedingly well-written and eloquent book, Returning to Sacred World, he gently guides the reader into the realms of the divine via a fusion of his personal, life-long studies of numerous cultures. If you think this sounds suspiciously like Eat, Pray, Love, let me assure you that Gray's composition moves well beyond that. Let's call Returning to Sacred World version 2.0. Maybe even 3.0. Or maybe it's a whole different animal altogether.
Gray's explorations - or more precisely, immersions - have taken him from studying under the much-esteemed Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche to engaging in shamanic South American practices to learning the indigenous teachings of the Native American Church. Taking aspects from each that resonates with him, Gray provides a syncretic (blending of different beliefs and practices) viewpoint that will engage the reader.
I could provide you here with several dry paragraphs that it would not do justice to this amazing work. No. Let's not do that. Instead I'd like to share how reading this affected me.
As Gray lays down his case for our need to recognize our spiritual disconnection, I found myself underlining more than several concepts. I was inspired to write "yes" with exclamation points in the margins at several points. I even gave one sentence a "wow". I'm not going to tell you what that was, though. You have to read Returning to Sacred World yourself and find your own "yeses" and "wows". By the end of Part 1, I was in agreement with Gray that now, more than ever, we need to awaken and transform.
How is this done? In the second part Gray dives into Buddhism. This is not light reading. I attempted to wrap my technology-based, western-thinking, Judeo-Christian indoctrinated mind around some of the concepts. I have looked at these before and, frankly, had given up. Gray gave me hope with his exhortations to let go of dogmatic teachings, continue to seek without judgment, trust my inner guide, and, most importantly, to relax. And breathe. I could almost hear him sympathetically chuckling at points.
In the last section Gray provides applicable tools to further one's practice; the spiritual journey. Gray explores the inner connections to the divine: prayer, chanting, one point and still point meditation. Gray then plunges down the rabbit-hole of using substances, entheogenic (from the Greek, that which causes to be in God) and empathogenic (causing an expansion of feelings for others), to break down the ego boundaries. He explains that plant-based medicines are ideal (as opposed to laboratory manufactured) and should be experienced in the correct setting, namely under supervision by those who have studied and know how to use these substances. Although controversial, Gray maintains that mindfully using one or more can be extremely helpful in transcending ego and furthering the awakening process. I found myself intrigued.
Because of Gray's experiences and ability to speak with an authentic voice, I would have liked to have seen him touch upon other meditative practices such as the Melchizedek method or his thoughts on doing daily affirmations as popularized by The Secret. If he explored these at all, he made no mention. That's okay. Gray inspired me to form a personal syncretic practice as I move into my own Sacred World. And I think that was his ultimate goal.
My recommendation for fellow seekers: read Returning to Sacred World, you won't regret it for an instant.