Soloman Katz: Beauty as a State of Being
Beauty as a State of Being:
Mastering the Mind and the Spiritual Path
Solomon Katz grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household with parents who were Holocaust survivors. After college he became a Buddhist monk. (You know, as people often do…) Then he completed dual graduate degrees in world religion and psychology at, wait for it, Harvard. So already we know that this man is a very smart, very seasoned, and very accomplished doctor. But can he write?
His book, Beauty as a State of Being: Mastering the Mind and the Spiritual Path is an ambitious attempt to integrate his wide experience in spiritual disciplines, clinical psychology, and ordinary personhood. In the preface, Mr. Katz declares his dual aspirations: to create both a manual for mastering the mind and a work of art. This creative tension pervades his writing. At times poetic, other times prosaic; at times evidentiary, other times ethereal. On the whole, it works.
Mr. Katz variously describes the goal of our meditative practice to be attaining Enlightenment; awakening from the dream; achieving a soul state of balance; releasing desire; and experiencing everything as Original Consciousness. He offers a smorgasbord of strategies: prayer, positive thinking, affirmations, meditation, hypnosis, chanting, using a mantra, mindfulness practice, yoga.
The idea is that there’s ONE idea. And lots of ways to get there.
There is something winsome in his eclecticism. It’s like having supper with a charming polymath who can’t quite decide which topic is most appealing at the moment. And is delighted that, no matter what, all the topics lead back to the main one anyway!
He’s clear that mastering the mind is immensely difficult work, involving years of practice: “Meditation may first be more like hand to hand combat; a fierce battle to subdue the raging mind.” But later blithely states that, “All that is needed is to withdraw attention from mind and its projects, from obsessing within time, from happiness in the future, to settle into the I Am and see wonder.” (That’s all?) Yet somehow both assertions manage to feel authentic.
So much of what Mr. Katz says I agree with, and I strive to experience what he undoubtedly has attained. But I kept thinking about a friend of mine who’s been trudging through a long spell of disappointment, perceived failure, and loneliness. So long and so hard that it’s come to define him. Should I give him a copy of this book? Here’s how Mr. Katz describes a similar client of his. “She is paranoid, afraid of the world…and by this assumption undermines what help people of good faith may choose to give her. Her own view precludes the love she seeks; then she blames the world for its failure to love.”
For my friend, even were he to dig out enough to begin, I think he would find this book a frustrating, up-hill slog without enough intermediate, mid-course affirmations. So I don’t think it’s a beginner’s manual. For someone who is already on a path; for someone who fundamentally believes/agrees with the underlying premise of One-ness? Yes. The book offers a great overview of various traditions and methods to master the mind.
The poetry is often compelling: consider these lines from Eulogy:
Sitting by your side/witnessing the early stages of your dying, Mother,/I feel death is more a process of saying thank you,/than it is a process of saying good bye./Because there is no good bye, I believe.”
The prose is often pithy. “Thought is inner behavior.” “Meditation is like taking the mind to the gym.” “The desire to awaken must be greater than the desire for the dream.” “Ego is the mind’s mundane conversation with itself.”
One could dive in anywhere, but there is an arc to the book. It begins with the more concrete and evolves to the less specific. Mr. Katz often uses stories of (one presumes) actual clients to introduce or illustrate his points. I found myself wanting to hear more of the story—how did it turn out? Did it work? Maybe that’s a sign of an un-mastered mind—wanting to know the immediate resolution instead of being patient with the larger mystery. Guilty.
The back and forth of the book mirrors my meditation practice: Enlightenment does not progress with constant velocity. Or, as Mr. Katz contends, “sometimes clarity takes time to simmer.” In this reader, at least, Mr. Katz will realize his hope that his book will continue “to be pulled off the shelf years after the initial reading.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.