Book reviews:

Review by Keith Martin-Smith, Award-Winning Author, Content Strategist, Ghostwriter + Book Coach, Boulder, Colorada, US    

We live in a curious time, when we have access to ancient wisdom, modern "hacks" at meditation, brain science, and so much more. But where we still struggle is with wisdom, with finding a way to integrate our own experiences with a desire to plug into a source deeper than ourselves -- awakening, enlightenment, or being liberated from our suffering. Thomas Rüedi’s book offers something utterly unique: a way to honor the wisdom of Indigenous peoples, cultivate the clarity of Buddhism, honor the insights of mysticism, and understand our modern world. He helps the reader find a throughline that lets us develop relative wisdom and absolute knowing, and to integrate these in a map of wholeness that brings together the very best parts of our collective humanity. 

Thomas doesn't suggest we "go back to the way things were" but rather see the power traditional cultures had, and have, in relationship to the natural world. But he also understands psychosocial shadow, trauma, and attachment, the history of colonialism and systemic bias, and the importance of understanding how these things still influence us, and keep us apart from the wisdom that is our birthright. More than any book I've read, this one offers a path to a genuine wholeness, of body, mind, soul, and world -- a bridge from the past to now, and into our collective future. Written with heart, passion, and a discerning and penetrating clarity, this book is a must-read for anyone looking to find a deeper meaning in the world. 

Review by Dr. Bob Weathers, Ph.D., Recovery Coach, Newport Beach, California US

I deeply respect and appreciate Thomas' keen commitment to interact with, and incorporate, all authentic, experientially based psycho-spiritual traditions and forms: whether within the Dzogchen Buddhist path (his own preferred); Islam-based Sufism; mystical Judaism; and even more contemporary expressions, as in philosopher/psychologist Ken Wilber's "fourth turning" of Integral Life Practice. This inclusiveness surely broadens the potential appeal and individual applicability of all that follows in Thomas’ overall presentation. 

Next, Thomas introduces the reader to three steps on the path of life, toward oneness (what some religious traditions might call enlightenment or salvation). These three steps are inseparable, yet they must all be addressed in-depth. That is, none of them may be ignored, or the sought-for oneness might never be attained. In a nutshell, the first step pertains to the need to personally address the relative domain of our incarnate lives, as psycho-physical beings. Step two points toward the need to honor and engage with the absolute domain, that which lies behind and before our earthly existences. (Different traditions refer to this as one’s relation to God, Emptiness, or Allah.) The final step, number three, integrates steps one and two into what Gestalt theorists might call synergy, where "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." By way of mathematical analogy, we might put it this way, here in reference to Thomas’ three steps: one plus one doesn't equal two; rather it equals three (hence, Thomas' third distinct, fully integrated "step"). 

Thomas applies, with both creativity and much wisdom, working with the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space in one's finding life balance. Each one of these elements is essential; in fact, they are both different and, at the same time, one. Thomas provides helpful examples of those five elements, including respectively: sexuality, care for self and others, zest for life, anger, intellectual power, and visionary initiations. 

Thomas' consistent mantra throughout his book is the need for an integral, or radically inclusive, approach to all of life. Two examples stand out: 1) his concise exposition of Clare Graves' spiral dynamics in relation to human development; and 2) his equally articulate introduction to integrative medical approaches. In both cases, the goal is, as Ken Wilber states it so succinctly: to "transcend and include" all prior, either/or typologies or techniques. Inclusiveness, coupled with clear critical thinking along the way, are the order of the day. 
As a practicing psychologist and therapist myself (over the past 1/2-century), I really appreciate Thomas' drawing on modern trauma theory (PTSD & the ACE studies) to underscore the need for a holistic approach to spirituality that does not avoid, deny, or "bypass" psychological foundations for the entire lifespan of personal development. 

In a rich and detailed analysis, Thomas examines contemporary environmental crises (including concerns about biodiversity and pandemics) in relation to indigenous worldviews (citing inspiring examples from North America and South Africa). The latter peoples have only ever seen humans as integral expressions of Mother Nature, bound inextricably to her rhythms; only with the rise of modernity do we see a split between humans and the planet which already breeds sure and widely evidenced catastrophe. Here again we see Thomas' clarion call to integrating earth and sky, body and mind -- whether speaking of integrative approaches to healing the individual, the nation, indeed the entire planet itself. 
I resonate so powerfully with so many of the instances where Thomas draws on parallels between Mother Nature at her best and most vital, and cultures which are respectful of, even reverential toward, her. Having grown up myself at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, and having visited and explored countless times the massive Sequoia redwoods, which are unique to that environment, I am deeply heartened by Thomas' drawing upon both that specific natural environment, as well as the contemporary Japanese form of "forest-bathing" as one essential resource for furthering physical/psychological/spiritual health and well-being. I went to school with native Yokut tribe boys and girls who grew up amidst the Sequoias, and remember vividly and with great fondness their consistent appreciation of all natural forms -- animals, vegetation, and us humans as responsible stewards of such bounty. Such deep, early impressions continued to blossom for me with my family’s engagement in the Sierra Club throughout my formative development in childhood through adolescence. We would all do well to implement Thomas' fervent plea for our regaining a more conscious and committed relationship to the natural world, as exemplified by those native peoples that preceded us. (Might I mention, as a special source of pride, that I completed my earliest college degree at the College of the Sequoias…not a bad symbol for what Thomas emphasizes here, namely, how we can, indeed ought rightly, learn from those great mountain forests!) 

As with his drawing upon indigenous people's insights into maintaining a healthful, proactive engagement with Mother Earth, Thomas also provides deep awareness of the impact of gender polarities. (I am reminded here of Ken Wilber's earlier, highly impactful treatise, "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality," where he too draws together essential conversations about gender, environmental awareness, and the major spiritual traditions/practices, all of which must necessarily inform one another). 

Thomas moves next into an extended explication of our "fundamental need for a spiritual path," and just what such a path might look like from his consistently holistic point-of-view. He details the richness of not only his own Dzogchen Buddhist tradition, but also incorporates Ken Wilber's "Fourth Turning" update and expansion upon Buddhist principles and practices. Key to the latter is introducing a deeper appreciation of modern developmental psychology (including its implicitly "bottom-up" approach to healing the personal shadow.) Hand-in-hand, with Wilber’s innovative thoughts, is Integral Life Practice ("waking up, growing up, cleaning up, and showing up"), which Thomas helpfully delineates, providing a companion and particularly inspiring example of one, thorough-running meditation practice that he both personally utilizes himself, as well as recommends wholeheartedly to the curious and engaged reader. 

Thomas moves from providing the basic structure of spiritual paths to an in-depth exploration of our need to balance all major polarities, whether between the Absolute and the Relative, or in another very helpful analysis, between the masculine and the feminine. In fact, the latter polarity serves to exemplify the former: where relative differences in gender are indeed integrated fully from an absolute perspective. I especially appreciate Thomas' drawing on images of the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine: neither complete in itself; both necessitating the other for any truly holistic view. Kudos to Thomas for entering creatively, and with utter sensitivity, into a debate which currently rages worldwide, and which sadly, without so holistic a value orientation, descends into only more and more antagonizing polarities. 

3th-century Persian poet, the Sufi Rumi, observed: "Diseases are the ways mercy enters...The cure for pain is the pain. Good and bad are mixed together."  In contemporary form, and equally with eloquence, Thomas draws out the incredible value to be had in seeing one's "diseases" as potential doorways into personal growth and transformation. Following on psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in "Man's Search for Meaning," discovering the "why" of any given illness, or personally experienced loss, may be the very thing that supplies the "how" of not only surviving it, but also utilizing it as a springboard into profoundly purposeful change in one's life. Thomas does a wonderful job throughout his book of integrating an Absolute perspective right amidst the Relative unfoldings, including loss and apparent limitations, within any given life. 

As lifelong musician myself, just as Thomas is, I particularly appreciate his (once again) "both/and" approach to managing the tempo of one's life. There are surely times where speed is necessary, and valuable. But Thomas makes clear that there are also problems that attend rushing through one's life, multi-tasking, to be ever more "productive." Rather what is needed is a balanced integration of fast and slow; where Thomas honors the intensity of single-minded, slowed-down presence as much as that intensity which appears to be more highly valued in a hurried culture as so many of us live in. To follow the South African author Laurens van der Post's advice, learned himself from the native Bushmen of his region, the aim might rightly be to "hasten slowly." 

The culmination of all that came before in Thomas' narrative is found in his chapter on bringing both Absolute and Relative together into Oneness. Radical non-duality is what he offers the curious, open-hearted reader. He cites Buddhist texts, along with the Sufi wisdom tradition and even the contemporary contributions to mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. All point toward a state, indeed a "stage" or trait, which might be quite sustainable, for those whose hunger leads them beyond all either/or resolutions. The mystery to which Thomas points is in fact the essence of any wisdom or spiritual path worth its salt. It is clear here that Thomas has not only realized the truth of this experience in his own life, but also that he views it (rightly, I agree) as the most needed, hence important, step in the evolution in human consciousness. Perhaps never more called for than in this very moment in our collective history... 

Even as we seek, with Thomas' deep and consistent encouragement, to integrate apparent opposites in our lives, we must be careful, he rightly emphasizes, to not simply disengage from our incarnate lives through "spiritual bypassing." Here he references Robert Augustus Masters' highly insightful analysis of this tendency, maybe most pronounced in otherwise "spiritual" contexts, to forget about or actively suppress the integration of one's shadow (both personal and collective). Shadow-work thus becomes instrumental to achieving the holistic integration which is the central theme of this entire book of Thomas'. 

Thomas' drawing together head, heart, and gut brains is deeply enriching, effectively counteracting much of the Western bias toward only the brain in our skulls, ignoring (at great cost) the contribution of our entire bodies (including heart and gut). A heart-centered spirituality, based in love, bodes best for what ails humanity, Thomas argues; and I could not concur with him more! 

Thomas concludes this odyssey of body, mind, soul, spirit, and shadow in rightfully earned, climactic utterance. I quote him here directly: 
ONENESS then is the final state, where major polarities are balanced…Absolute and the Relative…There we find…ONENESS as the simultaneous presence and appearance of accepted, fully embraced suffering in its context and never-ending bliss of the Absolute. ONENESS as a state of flow, a state of liveliness and silent peace, as a state of being formless in a form, as a state of wholeness and holiness. 

No more words then. Simply, respectfully: a deep bow in silence. Thank you, Thomas, for this utterly fabulous gift of the heart! 


Latter Postscript: I had the good fortune of having Thomas forward to me, just as I was completing my initial review of his earlier manuscript, three extensions having to do with the intersection of aging and elderhood. First, I was again struck by the broad-ranging nature of Thomas' entire inquiry. He has capably synthesized, with the utmost craft and creative inspiration, a truly magnum opus of the psyche. It wouldn't do the, would it, to not include his profound reflections on the aging process with its unique, built-in opportunities? I, for one -- as an emerging elder myself -- feel deep resonance with every single sentence included in this latter addition to Thomas' text. Would that "age-ing" might be increasingly embodied in "sage-ing"; and that the enormous resource of those chronologically "advanced" individuals might be fully tapped for the sake of their respective families and cultures. Well-done, dear and wise Thomas!