Saturday, October 3, 2015

Spirit Saturday: Ishmael - A New Favorite Book

Even though I did a review on Tuesday this week, I have decided to use my Saturday slot to do another. Let me catch you up to speed. I mentioned that I was taking a hard class – a class in which I learned about best practices for teaching college English, and was a Teaching Assistant for a Composition course. Well, I finished all my work for class a week early, so I had it all planned, I had two weeks “off.” I had every intention of reading the book that a good friend got me for my birthday two months ago, watching documentaries, catching up on friends’ blogs, and starting the reading for my next class. Similar in nature to the rest of my life, this did not go as planned. Appointments, new duties, and a bunch of other things just got in the way. So, I have been catching up for the last few days, and doing pretty well at accomplishing everything I set out to do on my break before class begins on Monday.

The one thing that I was determined to do, was to read the book I got for my birthday: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I just finished it this morning. My tears are still drying, and the book has taken a proud place on the special shelf where only my favorites sleep. As much as I love to fashion words, I feel ill-equipped to describe this story.

The story is of a man who once counted himself amongst the “dreamers” of the 60’s and 70’s. But, as he puts it, he woke up one morning and realizes there is never going to be a revolution, so he does what most folks do – he gets a job and builds a life according to what society has told him is right. He sees an ad in the paper that says “Teacher seeking pupil. Must have serious desire to change to world. Apply in person.” After he got over feeling outraged that this teacher did not appear when he was still a dreamer who wanted to change the world, he went to the address listed. There he found a near empty room with just a chair and a bookshelf, oh, and a window that let him see into the next room, where there was a gorilla. Ishmael.  

The way I see it, this man quieted his mind enough to hear his own soul, and his soul told him “it would be best if you sat down and were still.” When he did, he continued to listen with his soul and heard the gorilla speak – not in words, but in a much more ancient language that connects all living beings. Thus begun Ishmaels’ teachings. He taught the man about the world, as seen from the eyes of civilized  human. Through a wise balance of facts, stories, and questions to get him to critically analyze the so-called truths of our civilization, the man comes to new realizations of life on Earth.
Among some of the insight this man gains is that primitive cultures and animals don’t have a concept of being separate from everything else, but one of being a part of a whole. Civilized humans see themselves as central to the universe, never mind the Earth. Ishmaels goes on to help this man see this propaganda, the idea that human beings were divine, and meant to rule the world, thus excusing them for taking it over, and ultimately, destroying it.

As the agricultural revolution dawned and as humans have considered themselves exempt from the law off peaceful coexistence, the planet has begun to deteriorate. Greed fueled population growth, which meant that more land was needed, which increased greed and competition for resources ensued. To paraphrase from the book, a species can’t exempt itself from the law of limited competition without destroying a whole community. Diversity works better than homogeneity.
And that is just what civilized humans have done, they have valued homogeneity over diversity. They believe that this agricultural, settled lifestyle is the only way to live, the right way to live. But animals and cultures that live in an ancient manner don’t extend this sort of evaluation to everyone else on the planet. They are doing what has worked for them, what has been handed down through generations, yet they don’t try to tell the rest of the world they should live this way.

Ishmael, like any true teacher opens this man’s eyes to new truths. He comes to see the fact that we are living in a prison called society. It is one that is based on the false notion that humans have been divinely appointed to rule the world, therefore greed is ok. He also sees that changing the minds is no easy task. Like any revolution, it takes small steps, the most important of which is enlightening as many others as possible.

I love this book so much because I believe in the kind of revolution that can save the Earth. One of the first things that Ismael tells this man, and one the last he reminds him of before they part is that “to enact a story is to live so as to make it come true.” This is directly related to my belief in the power of positivity. I believe that we choose our own reality to a great degree. Each day the collective we are writing our own story of existence, while each of us is also creating our own individual story. So, if we can enact a story that perpetuates greed and egocentrism, one that is destroying the planet, I have to believe a shift is possible. I believe that if we change our beliefs, our values, and our actions on a collective level, that we can create a new reality. One in which we can heal the planet and erase imaginary boundaries that we have created between us and them.

If you need science to back up my claims, then I have proof. I started on this journey – my own individual revolution – not long ago. It’s been just over two years. And in two years I have seen my own life change. The kinds of changes that have made me see I have every little thing I need to make my dreams come true. Changes, that, as I mention often, have brought me such a beautiful community of fellow dreamers. Yes, Ishmael will forever belong on my favorites shelf, because it hold the kind of magic that I believe in. 
Peace and Love



  1. Thank you for sharing this! What a beautiful movement from noise to quiet; from chaos to order! I am going to have to look for this book!

  2. I think you will love it. If you get a chance to read it, please let me know what you think.

  3. So happy that you loved this book. It has definitely been a game changer for me through the years!

  4. Thank you, Amber. Seriously one of the best gifts I have ever received. Love ya.