The effusive mainstream reviews—from the likes of Dave Eggers and The New York Times—for Alex Shakar’s second novel Luminarium might put off the very audience who would appreciate it the most. Can a book blessed by the highest echelons of the literary establishment really be that good? Yes, it can. A dense, lyrical speculative novel, Luminarium explores the intersection of technology and spirituality in a riveting story that’s as much about the bond between brothers as it is about virtual worlds and Hindu cosmology.
I’ll admit it up front: I’m no stranger to the kind of “spiritual spa” experience that most people outside of the Bay Area—let alone most serious spiritual practitioners—roll their eyes at. I’ve been to Esalen Institute more than a dozen times, attended a couple of adventure yoga retreats, and paid my Sensitive New Age Guy dues to more massage therapists than could ever be justified. With my level of familiarity verging on jadedness, it takes a lot to make me feel like I’ve actually experienced something special, let alone sacred, but a recent weekend at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center did just that.
Looking out my home office window on an improbable, fourth consecutive day of beautiful San Francisco weather, I’m reminded of the Tolstoy biopic from a couple of years ago, The Last Station. In the movie’s opening moments, James McAvoy, playing the idealistic secretary Valentin, beams to his colleague Sergeyenko, “It’s a beautiful day.” Sergeyenko responds, “Yes, but we’ll pay for it.”
I thought I was prepared for Boxing Boot Camp. I had spent three months upping my workouts at the gym to four times a week, including lots of cardio, weights, and sauna time. I dropped 10 pounds and 10 beats per minute from my resting heart rate. Surely I was ready for what 3rd Street Gym promotes, in its warmly homespun way, as “San Francisco’s Last Honest Boot Camp.” I wasn’t.
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