Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday: The Celestine Prophecy

The Celestine Prophecy began as a self-published novel in the early 1990s that was passed around and received good word-of-mouth recommendation by readers who happened to have found a copy and read it. When Warner Books bought it and published it in hardcover, the spiritual novel became a huge sensation in 1994. The timing of the novel's publication with a major distributor was perfect for me. I consider 1994 to be one of the most spiritually relevant years of my life. It marked my "rebirth." My five-year "atheist era" came to an end in 1994 when I finally had the personal evidence I needed that we live in a spiritual universe rather than a strictly materialistic one. Between 1991 and 1994, I had a series of strange coincidences that struck me as odd at the time, without really thinking much more into them until years later.

When I first heard about this novel, I was living in Sardinia, with the U.S. Navy. I was due to transfer back to the U.S. in October. Books in English were hard to come by for military members stationed in Sardinia. Sure, the barracks complex I lived in had a library with a small, but rather impressive array of books. I did not have the chance to read all the books I had wanted to during my three years on that island. As for The Celestine Prophecy, it was just growing in popularity, so I would have to wait until I returned home before I got a chance to read it. The basic description of the novel intrigued me enough. It was described as an adventure novel surrounding a mysterious manuscript that appeared in Peru that supposedly answers the questions about the meaning of life and why we're here. I thought that it might have some Mormon connection, considering that the LDS Church has a vested interest in South America (in their efforts to match the people in the Book of Mormon to real locations and ancient civilizations).

In October, I finally got to read my dad's copy of the novel and I was intrigued. The basic premise revolves around the nature of coincidences. James Redfield was claiming that coincidences weren't really coincidences. They were actually spiritual signs pointing the way, letting the person know that they are on the right track. If we lived life right, we would experience more and more coincidences. Considering how many I had experienced in the previous three years, this idea resonated very deeply with me.

Though the writing wasn't spectacular, the exposure to a new spiritual idea kept me turning pages and reading for hours. All of the ideas presented in the novel were new for me and I was still in my "impressionable age" (of 22 years old), so this novel might have had a larger impact on me than it would have had it come out several years later. It was during my "ecstatic bliss" period of reading this novel that I met one of my best friends, Nathan, who remembered eating at my family's house after church a decade earlier. Our friendship began by realizing our coincidence. I even got Nathan into the book.

My dad thought it was wise of the writer to create an adventure story surrounding the nine insights, rather than writing a non-fiction spiritual book. This probably increased the chances that Redfield's ideas would find a wider audience. The novel is around 220 pages and is a quick read. A friend of mine who lives in Peru now said that she didn't believe that the author actually travelled to Peru because he got some of the distances or travel times wrong in the novel. Perhaps. However, the writing isn't what you would call memorable. All these years later, what I remember most are the insights, particularly the one about coincidences guiding you towards your destiny. The novel was just short enough that it left me wanting more. I bought the audio version on cassette so I could listen to it whenever I needed a spiritual reminder. I think I only read the book once, though. I highlighted the most important parts I wanted to remember.

In the spring of 1996, the sequel was released. I was out of the Navy by this point, enjoying the follow-up Dave Matthews Band CD that was also just released (that would be Crash, following the excellent Under the Table and Dreaming). I was in my post-Navy optimism (before the car accident that "ruined" my year). The Tenth Insight pushed ideas even further and I must admit that I had difficulty with this one. The reason is because the author talked about reincarnation and birth visions. I was not yet a believer in reincarnation (that would not happen until 1998) but I was still intrigued by the idea. When I talked to a church member about the insights I learned from this book, the lady advised caution because the novel might not be in keeping with Christianity. I did like the concept of having a birth vision (that is, remembering what our souls incarnated in our current bodies for). This sequel was set somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains and was a satisfying sequel. I did not expect to see any more novels, though a trilogy would have been nice.

In the fall of 1997, James Redfield released what was essentially a "non-fiction version" of The Celestine Prophecy, called The Celestine Vision. Of course, I bought it because it offered details about the ten insights without the "adventure story." It definitely made a better reference book. I was in my first semester at BYU, so this book made an excellent diversion from my required reading. I don't remember anything new being offered, though. Some might wisely consider this a money-making gimmick (basically distilling the essence out of the novels).

In 1999, I had finally accepted the spiritual truth about reincarnation after reading Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come novel in 1998 and experiencing "the burning in my bosom" that Mormons claim that you will feel when you read something that is "the truth." I was not expecting another Celestine Prophecy sequel and was surprised to see it in the book store one day. Of course, I had to buy it and devour it. The Secret of Shambhala takes place in China / Tibet and deals with the power of group prayer as well as a community of people living so spiritually that they create a kind of heaven on earth. There are mythologies about "Shangri-La", which is essentially "Shambhala", a community found in the Himalayas of Tibet. I don't remember much else about the book. Perhaps I had outgrown this series and was looking for something more challenging. Its probably a book I need to read again for a refresher.

In 2006, the movie version of The Celestine Prophecy finally arrived in theaters. I had seen an exclusive showing at a New Age bookstore in Atlanta with a friend of mine, an older lady who had lost her son to suicide the previous fall. The film showing was crowded and it was not in a theater, but in a meeting room at the book store. I couldn't see the screen well and eventually moved to a better location at some point in the film. When it made it to a regular theatrical run, I had thought about going to see it again, but never did. I waited to see it again when it was released on DVD in the fall.

There was talk about a film version in the mid-1990s, with someone like Harrison Ford attached to star. A big Hollywood movie was a risky idea. Sure, the studio might get the story right, but possibly at the expense of the underlying spirituality. I'm sure that's what James Redfield was concerned about when he decided not to sell the film rights to anyone and just make an independent film with the millions he had earned with his Celestine series of books. Though the movie does keep the spiritual ideas in place, I thought there was something "off" about the movie. I've never been able to figure out what, though. The film had good actors, some of whom are familiar faces to filmgoers. The film failed to find box office success, which is a shame, because the ending hinted at a sequel, which hasn't happened so far. This is a film project that George Lucas might be able to find success with, if someone can pry him away from his Star Wars fixation. Lucas' infused his epic saga with spiritual undertones, so he would be a natural to direct and produce any future Celestine Prophecy movies. How about it, eh?

I do like the film, though, and watch it whenever I need a spiritual reminder. It certainly beats reading the poorly written novel again!

Finally, we come to The Twelfth Insight, which was released on February 15th of this year, which also happens to be the birthday of my favourite teacher of all time: Tom Malone, whose outspoken atheism and brutal honesty inspired an impressionable teen like me. Ironically, when I had visited him in 1994 and raved about The Celestine Prophecy, I was dismayed when he mocked the idea of coincidences being relevant. It was the beginning of the end of my atheism fascination, as I learned from several atheists that they were every bit as closed minded to different ideas as fundamentalist / evangelical Christians are. As I like to tell people: hypocrisy led me away from Christianity but coincidences brought me back to God. I've had so many amazing coincidences that I simply cannot agree with an atheist that in a random universe, such coincidences will occur by sheer statistical probabilities. Or has Wayne and Garth loved to say on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s: "Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!"

I feel sorry for the atheists who reject any spiritual meaning behind the strange coincidences they have. Coincidences / synchronicities truly make life awesomely wonderful. If something strangely wonderful happens to you, why would you not want to investigate the potential meaning behind it? Why go out of your way to dismiss it as a statistical probability? Following coincidences only lead you down a path of sheer amazement.

As for The Twelfth Insight, I was greately disappointed. It was a major ordeal reading it because I was so put off by Redfield's horrendous writing style. I never noticed this in his previous novels. But then again, I've read several hundred books in the dozen years between his novels. You would think that he would have spent some time learning how to write in the past decade so that he could write a great story. At the very least, he should've had a ghostwriter or an editor go over his work and demand changes. As I said in the previous post, Redfield is far too repetitive in his descriptions. Characters are often "looking around" or "giving a look" or "looking at each other." The writing is lazy and sloppy, and ultimately drags down the novel. It was a painful read. One word he used a lot was "grimaced." A lot of characters were "grimacing" throughout the novel. The word is awkward in most sentences. Who speaks like that? I CRINGE at the thought of reading any more of his works. I would have loved to be an editor on this novel. I would have redlined so many sentences!!

Other than the bad writing, the story was kind of predictable. Essentially, its The Celestine Prophecy in a new dust jacket. Instead of insights that the characters learn throughout the adventure tale, these characters learn "integrations", which coincide with the twelve insights. Interestingly, the setting for this novel is Sedona, Arizona and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. How timely! Arizona and Egypt have gotten most of the attention of 2011 so far.

The idea I love most about this book is that we are supposedly entering a more spiritually enlightened era where it will be much harder to deceive people and that honesty will prove beneficially as karma supposedly speeds up to the point where people will finally be able to recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between how they treat others and how they get treated. Karma is meant to act as a mirror on your own behaviour. Its not meant to be punishment but more like a corrective device: if you steal from other people, other people will steal from you. I'm certainly hoping that karma speeds up, because I'm tired of being one of the rare honest people I know in the places where I work. I hate seeing dishonest people get ahead with all the financial benefit and promotion, while my honesty keeps me in low wage positions. It is very uncomfortable when I tell someone a lie and I rarely do it. In fact, I only do it as a last resort, when telling the truth would cause harm to myself in an atmosphere where no one is honest. If I won the lottery, I would definitely work for myself, creating my own foundation with staff as I attempt to conduct business by purely spiritual principles, with honesty as a baseline for the way things get done. I so want this this to happen in our world!

As I read the novel, though, I felt several steps ahead of the writer. The basic premise for this one is that religions need to find a common purpose and realize which ones are actually better at which principles. If we can learn from each religion, we will become more spiritual and this era of cooperation will foster a trans-religion sense of brotherhood. I've had for years felt as though I could identify the kernal of truth in every religion I've learned about. I have been practicing what some call a "salad bar religion" where I pick only the best ideas from each religion I've learned about. This ability to see elements of truth in each religion is old news to me and nothing earth-shattering.

The novel culminates with a group of people called the Apocalyptics who conspire to commit a terrorist act that they believe will bring the world to Armaggedon in order to speed up the time for the coming messiah's return (Jesus for the Christians, the Messiah for the Jews, and the Twelfth Imam for the Muslims). A big part of this plan includes the blowing up of the Mosque that sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel. This act of terrorism is considered enough of an outrage to unleash a war to end all wars. I've heard this talk at BYU more than a decade ago. According to Christian and Jewish end times mythologies, one of the signs of the coming messiah would be the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the ancient site of Solomon's Temple (that was destroyed in 70 a.d. or thereabouts). Since the Muslims built a beautiful Mosque on that very site, though, no Jewish Temple will be able to be built unless the Mosque was removed. There are fanatical Christians who wish to destory the Mosque, which they believe will prompt Jesus' return. Since I don't believe Jesus ever intended to return and I happen to love awesome architecture, I would be very upset if anyone attempted to destroy that beautiful Mosque. Religious fanatics are so freaking silly and immature. Like a perfect, all-knowing God really cares about temples and disagreements over locations.

Though I was disappointed in this latest Celestine Prophecy sequel, I am glad to know more about how we might increase the spiritual awareness of our planet. We may be in for some tough times ahead. Spirituality may be the only thing that saves us from descending into chaos and hell. I know that I will keep the techniques in mind in the hope of increasing my own synchronistic flow. Hope you will make that commitment as well.

1 comment:

Rob and Trish MacGregor said...

am not that greet a redfield fan. Thought the celestine prophecy was sloppy. But he did awaken a lot of people to something else.