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The Scenic Route to Freedom: A Book Review

The same weekend I read an advance copy of Hiro Boga’s To Be Soul, Do Soul, my wife and I went for a Saturday drive to the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Massachusetts. The winding roads led us through the late-October countryside, past old cemeteries, crooked farmhouses, and an occasional dog lounging in a driveway, watching the leaves fall.

The experiences were uncannily aligned; both invited me to slow down and experience the pure poetry not only around but within me. At the Pagoda, a gleaming white dome greeted us against a perfectly blue sky, the unblemished golden prayer wheel turning ever so subtly at the top. The opening pages of the book offered a similar experience, an invitation at once simple and vast, so that I knew immediately I was in the realm of the sacred. Hiro’s voice is as solid and real as if she were sitting next to me on one of the slightly sloping benches made of wood or stone, one thousand prayer flags flapping in the fall breeze.

The further I ventured into the writing the more connected I felt to what Hiro so confidently names soul. Without so much as a hint of contrivance, she shows her readers that soul isn’t something other, but rather deeply embedded within each of us, an earthy, multidimensional source of renewable wisdom.

Hiro’s exquisite one-liners are often so delightful and surprising, one can’t help but leap at the invitation: “Be the honey in someone else’s tea. Be the fire that cooks someone else’s stew, the oven that bakes their fragrant loaf of bread.”

It may be poetic, but it’s not all metaphor. She guides us towards asking questions related to power, creativity, and social change. “Write the story of the last day of your life. Live it today,” Hiro offers, but “take the scenic route.” Here, there is no rush, and the effect is one of tremendous permission that brought me to places within alternately calm, enlivened, moved, and awakened. The utter lack of agenda allowed me to fully explore joy, grief, story, and nature in embodied, sensual, and often surprising ways – ways that revealed new doorways to me to better understanding myself and allowing for a more spacious relationship to creativity and consciousness.

It’s important to note that all of this occurs in ways that don’t bypass reality but urge us to dive into it, exactly as it is and as we are. That may in fact be the book’s real superpower: Its utter embrace of possibility, rooted in the tangible, “in our own lives, in the body politic, and in the world.”

Many of the pages begin with imperatives – Write, Dive, Rest, Invite, Release, Open, Run, Listen, Notice, Saturate, Explore. Hiro seamlessly weaves stillness and action, movement and meditation, inquiry and experimentation; no matter a reader’s background or reason for choosing this book, she will discover whole inner worlds and new ways of interacting with the outside world, too. Hiro reminds us that we are all inherently beautiful, powerful, and whole, and that joy and integrity are byproducts of curiosity and the creative process.

Without a hint of dogma, Hiro holds that we each have the ability to transform our own suffering into a “balm to heal the world’s wounds.” Her writing – lush, grounded, and often breathtaking in its precision – makes poetry out of liberation, reminding us that we are ever-changing. This work calls us to look closely and unflinchingly at the systems that shape us and that we in turn shape, and offers practices that help us untangle ourselves from these very titles and roles. In Hiro’s words: “Make a plan. Put it into motion. Begin today.”

Part poetry collection, part how-to manual, this book transcends easy categorization – which is exactly what makes it so unique. With the steadiness of water against stone, Hiro’s gentle voice encourages us, again and again, to let go of that which holds us back and to move towards authenticity. Some of the pages here have just a single line, and I found the white space itself as potent an invitation into contemplation and exploration as the words themselves. Soul riddles, intended not to stump but to challenge our usual ways of processing and analyzing information, plunged me into participation in ways that surprised and changed me. “Stand for the world in which you want to live,” Hiro instructs, with an authority that makes me trust her – and myself.

Use it as a guide on the path of becoming, the path of freeing ourselves from a lifetime of accumulated beliefs, the path to greater understanding of ourselves and how we meet the world, the path to true healing and accountability, and ultimately, to allowing our innate creativity to shine.

This powerful book lives up to its subtitle, Adventures in Creative Consciousness. It has the ingredients to change not only your life, but the world – but each of us must roll up our sleeves to experiment with our own recipes. I can think of no better companion than Hiro Boga and the gift of this book.

To Be Soul, Do Soul is available to purchase now. Order your copy by December 31, 2017, and receive two exclusive bonuses.

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The Little Things, Like Offerings


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These are big numbers in my world.

I just spent an hour FINALLY tackling the unwieldy pile of receipts that’s been accumulating for months.

I just wrote a sentence with not one, but two words with i before e except after c. I actually misspelled unwieldy the first time, and again just now, and had to go back to fix it.

These are the little things.

The single person or two who decide to sign up for my newsletter.

The receipts that represent manuscripts printed on recycled paper up the street at Collective Copies, stamps and books mailed, coffee dates with writers, ink and paper and notebooks and all of the completely unglamorous stuff that goes into my everyday work, the work that is, here in my kitchen, as much a part of life as boiling water for tea, helping my kids navigate big decisions, and watching TV in bed at night with my beautiful wife.

The little things. The piles that pile up. The stuff we avoid and move around the house, from one room to another until the evening comes when we sort and record and file and purge. The notes from folks who say how are you doing what you’re doing and instead of writing back, I say when can we talk. And we talk and she says I think you are awesome and I say, wait, I think *you* are awesome, and we agree that the irony is complete because each of us thinks the other is rocking their business.

The little things. The way I always come back to this, it seems. This being the real, the tangible, the mess, the clean-up. All the times I feel like oh shit, what if this isn’t working. And then I think, wait, that’s just part of it. Everything keeps changing, and this is not an emergency. I tell my nervous system it’s safe, we’re ok. We can rest. We can adjust. We can even take our time.

The little things that are big things.

Like how the sanctuary volunteering isn’t ultimately about security but about human presence. And how I am walking through my days freely without an ankle bracelet that the government is tracking.

The little things like taking a moment to breathe and appreciate what is ending — a month-long poetry group that knocked my socks off — before catapulting into the next thing. Trust, trust, trust.

She asked if I have a strategy.

I laughed.

Not really, I said. I try to come back to ease. I try to recognize the expectations I’ve cast off like someone else’s idea of who I would or should be. I try to check in with what freedom feels like, and joy. To remember that there are so, so many of us. And when two people say yes, I’d like your words in my inbox, when one person says, yes, I’d like to trust you to read my unedited words, I am floored. Every time.

We live in a competitive world. Women are taught to look at each other uneasily. The “how does she do it” trope is so so tired and worn. None of us does it all. Not a single one. None of us is a fucking Marvel comics character.

All of us have such full, full lives. Lives filled with little things and big things and medium-sized things. Lives that are mired in grief or soaring on reclamation or plodding along somewhere in the muck or going by so fast we don’t even remember the last time we really, really stopped.

This is often what I crave the most, the stopping. In the past, I imagined it as a kind of all-or nothing. Surely stopping meant going away, checking out of the demands and responsibilities and having a room with a view, preferably of some mountains and oceans and palm trees and white against blue. We are sold this, too. Town & Country magazine’s top 10 places to restore your soul.

But no. Stopping is a little-big thing. A way of coming clean. A way of being real.

It’s this.

It’s sitting down after recording the i-before-e-except-after-c receipts and then stuffing them in an envelope in case you ever God Forbid get audited. It’s going to bed early tonight. It’s a hug in the middle of the kitchen and it’s the lingering.

Is it amazing? It is, sometimes.

Is it exhausting. It is, sometimes.

Is it too much? It is, sometimes.

Is it sustainable? That question always stops me in my tracks. I don’t know the answer. I notice how this makes me uneasy, the not knowing. And I decide that I can let it in, the question. I can say hello, question. Have a seat. I’m making tea. You might have to stick around a while, giving me time get to know you better and you to get to know me better and we’ll see what this thing is between us.

The little things, like Bukowski’s shoelace, can be the death of us, that which makes us snap.

Or the little things, like offerings — like nickels and twine and stones and twigs — can bring us back, back to right here, back to right now, back to what’s solid and known and seeable and do-able, trusting that the rest will come or go or some combination of coming and going, and we don’t have to know, what happens next.