The Kingdom of Shivas Irons by Michael Murphy. Broadway Books, A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, 1997; 314 pp., $27.50 (harcover).
Overall Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
Difficulty Level: 6 (out of 10)
Recommendation: Michael Murphy has given us another inspiring book which, while flawed, is nonetheless well worth reading.
Shivas Irons is not this next installment. Instead, it is a loosely jointed collection of remembrances, autobiographical vignettes, real-time adventures, and philosophical discourses on the potential of the human body and spirit. While Golf in the Kingdom consisted of a coherent narrative set in a given magical time and place, Shivas Irons uses Michael's Murphy's golfing experiences to transmit his feelings, moods, subjective experiences, and considerable philosophical insights. Separated by a quarter of a century, these two books are intermittently related not only in time but in style; anyone expecting Shivas Irons to be very similar to Golf in the Kingdom will be disappointed.
Autobiographical or semi-autobiographical psycho-spiritual fiction - referred to as "magical autobiography" and discussed in some detail in GNOSIS Magazine # 2 - is almost always a tricky business. If a book claims to describe the author's actual experiences, it becomes all too easy to get lost in questions such as "Is it true?" and "Did it really happen?" Did Dan Millman's Socrates really jump up to a rooftop in a single bound? Did Castaneda's characters actually enter bizarre dimensions of spacetime and jump off of cliffs to soar like birds?
If, on the other hand, a book is presented as fiction pure and simple, then it tends to become less interesting for those of us trying to transform ourselves by following the techniques and advice given in the book. And, of course, in some cases - such as James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy - even though a book is presented as fiction, it resonates so powerfully with the Zeitgeist that its insights end up being taken as genuine spiritual revelations.
Shivas Irons takes the unusual stance of honestly looking at the reality and the implications of the experiences reported. This is not to say that some of the experiences may not have been exaggerated - that they might have happened rather than that they actually happened - but the overall feeling that the book gives is one of conscientiously grappling with a variety of phenomena not within the range of the ordinary human sensorium or the maps of ordinary science. Murphy himself doesn't know what happened, and his openeness about this makes this book entirely more realistic, believable, and valuable.
And so, whether or not you have the slightest interest in golf - and more than one of the book's characters actively dislikes or even disdains the sport - Shivas Irons is both rewarding and inspiring if for no other reason than it presents Michael Murphy's honest attempt to grapple with what he knows and doesn't know about human potential, transcendence, and the future of the body.
Murphy, who co-founded the Esalen Institute in the mid 1960s, has been at or near ground-zero of the human potential movement for over three decades now. He has seen more than most of us can ever hope to, and he has worked with or met an extraordinary number of extraordinary people. A previous work of his fiction, Jacob Atabet, is an absolutely thrilling work of psycho-spiritual transcendence, and Murphy's The Life We Are Given, co-authored with George Leonard, is as practical a book as has ever been written on how small groups can work together to support each other in self-transformation. Lastly, Murphy's tremendous The Future of the Body presents an extraordinary depth of information on physical transcendence, which is the real topic at the center of Shivas Irons.
This reviewer read almost all of Shivas Irons while climbing away on a stair-master in a local gym. As I read the book over a number of days, I found myself setting the machine on higher levels for longer periods of time, with my posture improving and my breathing becoming more coherent. As the book continually inspired me, my inspiration -- literally my in-take of breath and life-energy -- markedly increased. As I read and climbed, the possibilities suggested by Murphy seemed increasingly plausible. That something called "The Kingdom of Heaven" could be created now, in this body, in this lifetime, became less like a fairy tale and more like a plan, or a blueprint.
In short, while this book may be flawed as a sequel, and while the narrative may not always hold together, it is still well worth reading both because it is in and of itself inspiring, and because it reflects the views of one of the human potential movement's most important actors, Michael Murphy.
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