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Sightseeing in the Undiscovered Country


A compassionate, intelligent survey of supernatural experiences.

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The wife of a psychic gathers reports from everyday people who believe they’ve glimpsed the beyond.

In this second foray into paranormal territory for nonfiction author Green (Loitering at the Gate to Eternity, 2013), a universe of perplexing activity comes to light via oral histories and anecdotes. Taking its titular cue from Hamlet’s description of death as “The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn / No Traveler returns,” the collection offers a gallery of real instances in which people believe that they interacted with otherworldly forces. These encounters take a number of forms, from meetings with hard-to-discern apparitions to poignant dreams and vivid visitations from long-dead relatives. One woman, for example, says that she found herself in the presence of her mother’s spirit, holding twin infants in her arms; her mother asked her whether she wanted the babies, and she declined. During the encounter, she says, she came to the conclusion that she didn’t want children of her own. Another man—a writer, photographer, and teacher—describes psychic sensibilities not unlike those possessed by Green’s husband, whose stories of supernatural experiences first made her a believer. The man foresaw that his ailing father would die at 1:00 a.m. on a Friday; sure enough, while attending a wedding, he felt a full-body shiver and told a friend that his father had just died, which turned out to be accurate. This volume is upbeat and respectful in its presentation and looks at all manner of mysterious experiences. Some people recount confrontations with malignant spirits who they believe physically harmed them; others discuss how visions or intuitions of loved ones helped them overcome personal traumas or open up new realms of psychic energy. Green appears to be conscious that scientifically minded readers will doubt these claims, but she complements her interviewees’ memories with informative sidebars that provide more details. The main—and highly laudable—point of the volume, however, isn’t to persuade steadfast skeptics but to further the idea that these phenomena are integral to the human experience. They’re events to discuss and contemplate, the author seems to say, not to fear or dismiss.

A compassionate, intelligent survey of supernatural experiences.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-7417-5

Page Count: 210

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Lessons about life from those preparing to die.

A longtime hospice chaplain, Egan (Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago, 2004) shares what she has learned through the stories of those nearing death. She notices that for every life, there are shared stories of heartbreak, pain, guilt, fear, and regret. “Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us,” she writes. “Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis.” The author is also straightforward in noting that through her experiences with the brokenness of others, and in trying to assist in that brokenness, she has found healing for herself. Several years ago, during a C-section, Egan suffered a bad reaction to the anesthesia, leading to months of psychotic disorders and years of recovery. The experience left her with tremendous emotional pain and latent feelings of shame, regret, and anger. However, with each patient she helped, the author found herself better understanding her own past. Despite her role as a chaplain, Egan notes that she rarely discussed God or religious subjects with her patients. Mainly, when people could talk at all, they discussed their families, “because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.” It is through families, Egan began to realize, that “we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.” The author’s anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos. She is not afraid to point out times where she made mistakes, even downright failures, in the course of her work. However, the nature of her work means “living in the gray,” where right and wrong answers are often hard to identify.

A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59463-481-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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