||Santa Monica Press
A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Adventures
A memoir of my 30-year quest and my utter failure to get enlightened.
Most stories like this end with an epiphany the seeker finds what he or she was looking for, writes a book about it to inspire others, and then, with any luck, appears on Oprah and becomes very wealthy. Unfortunately, , in my story, I remain more or less the same guy--or as my friend Eddie Greenberg would say, "the same old schmuck"--at the end as I was at the beginning.
The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist's Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments
Eliezer Sobel. Santa Monica, $16.95 paper (312p) ISBN 9781595800282
While a romp through the New Age is not everyone's cup of tea, novelist, publisher and editor Sobel (Minyan) does a fine job making his 30-year quest for spiritual awakening widely identifiable with a funny, clear-eyed account that takes readers around the world and through a gauntlet of gurus, shamans, workshops and retreats, not to mention sex and drugs (legal and otherwise). Sobel's twin assets are his willingness and his sense of humor, both apparent from the start in his encounter with a guru named Ram Dass, whose first instruction to Sobel is to take off his pants ("So I did"). Other episodes include Primal Therapy training with a teacher who rents his office space for porn production, the "est" training that teaches people to accept reality as it is (and then rope everyone they know into the program), and tours through Jerusalem, India and Brazil. Sobel's spiritual journey doesn't provide any answers (these days, the title on his business card is "Human Being") but provides lots of engaging, regular-guy perspective on modern man's confounding array of ancient and contemporary fulfillment schemes.
Eliezer Sobel doesn’t have one big spiritual moment. He has a lot of little ones.
by Valley Haggard
Eliezer Sobel and his wife, Shari, live in an unassuming neighborhood in the Fan. Their lawn is well-groomed, the paint isn’t peeling and you can’t smell the incense until you get inside. The home is colorful and full of paintings and books; it is tidy and organized.
You’d never guess you were sitting across from a man who’s been held at gunpoint by bandits outside Nepal, who’s done the hokeypokey while taking Ecstasy during an Easter-morning service conducted by monks, who’s required students in his creativity workshops to look each other in the eye and say “doody.”
Sobel, the author of “The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments,” redefines the word irreverent (he said “f — you” to Ram Dass!). You can’t swing a Schrödinger’s cat in the new age, Eastern religion or Judaeo-Christianity isle of the local bookstore without hitting someone that he has danced with, studied with, passed the peace pipe with, meditated with or revealed the angst of his soul with. It was his job as a spiritual journalist and publisher of the Wild Heart Journal to know them, but it’s also clear that Sobel’s mission is to keep seeking no matter what he finds.
As a self-proclaimed “resistant little putz,” Sobel, 55, does not mind looking the fool. He quotes Seinfeld as readily as the Dalai Lama, and his knack for marrying humor with an often-terrifying world are apparent in his observations: “Dachau was a breeze compared to wearing a yarmulke in a Denny’s outside of Kansas City.”
Sobel began writing his memoir, “The 99th Monkey,” in 1999, but was hard-pressed to find a home for it outside of his desk drawer. “No agents picked it up — including my own agent,” Sobel says. “Everybody was scared of this book. And the press hasn’t kicked in yet. If it ever will.”
It’s not the same as his novel, “Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That Is Heartbroken,” loosely based on his crazy Jewish friends in New York. “My novel is my pride and joy,” he says. “It was published to critical acclaim from my friends and family.”
Sobel has lived in Richmond, leading out-of-town retreats, painting, writing and dancing, ever since his wife “dragged” him away from their one-room barn in rural Batesville more than a year ago to complete her doctorate in social psychology and mindfulness research at Virginia Commonwealth University.
When they moved, Sobel brought his studio with him on the back of a truck, leaving behind the isolation tank he bought the day after his engagement. But so far he hasn’t really made any connections in Richmond. “Basically I’m lazy and shy,” he says, though he has friends all over the world. “Friends develop organically or not at all.”
So it’s both funny and not surprising when suddenly it dawns on me that this probably isn’t the first time Sobel and I have met. I’m quite certain we were at the same Jewish renewal workshop in Charlottesville with the Zen rabbi Rami Shapiro back in 1999. We were told to repeat, “Who are you?” while staring into the eyes of the partner across from us, and as we sit and talk in his studio, on his couch, with his cats, I ask that question again.
by Lynda Lippin
"I am the 99th Monkey. If you don't get me, you don't get your critical mass, and it screws up the whole works. I seem to be single-handedly holding back the Great Paradigm Shift of the Golden Age simply through my continuing to be a resistant little putz."
Most people of the hippie/new age/spiritual enlightenment seeking ilk have heard the infamous legend of the 100th monkey. Scientists who were studying monkeys on Koshima Island in Japan in 1952 introduced the sweet potato as a new snack, which the monkeys loved even though it was always covered in sand. One day Imo the monkey got the brilliant idea of taking her sweet potato to the water and washing off the sand, making the snack even yummier. She taught this trick to her family members and soon it spread. In 1958 the number of potato washing monkeys reached a critical mass (99, they say) and suddenly every monkey of Koshima and the neighboring islands began spontaneously washing their potatoes. So if humans work this way, an idea spread to that 99th human monkey would quickly and spontaneously spread to the population at large.
Now, you would think that with all the great spiritual movements and teachers out there over the past several decades that the world's population would have gotten past materialism and greed and onto a more enlightened plane of peaceful loving existence. Well, the reason this has not happened is Eliezer (Elliot) Sobel, the 99th Monkey.
Not that Sobel hasn't tried, mind you. The 99th Monkey is a frank and funny collection of Sobel's encounters with just about every major consciousness raising movement, written as editor of The New Sun magazine in the 1960s, the Wild Heart Journal, and as a freelance journalist. But what is great and refreshingly different about this book is that Sobel ends these encounters basically unchanged and unfazed.
What encounters he has! Through Sobel we get to meet Ram Dass, Hilda Charlton, Gabrielle Roth, Rabbi David Cooper, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Muktananda, Asha Greer, and the Dalai Lama. We get to travel to India, Israel, Auschwitz, Big Sur, Nepal, and Brazil. We experiment with LSD, Ecstasy, Daime, mushrooms, marijuana, and every anti-depressant on the market. We laugh, we scream, we trip, we cry, we vomit, and we refuse to drink the water used to cleanse the guru's sandals. And we go through primal scream therapy, EST, Landmark Forum, Moonie initiation, Daime rituals, yogic meditation of varying forms, sexual therapies of many kinds, and good old western psychotherapy.
Oh, Sobel does learn one great lesson in the end. After hearing the refrain of kindness from one spiritual teacher after the other he goes to a lousy therapy session with his wife.
"He wanted to see us regularly, at $150 a pop. We left his office and in an epiphany, we both realized that we could save $600 a month if we just tried to be nicer to one another. It definitely works."
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