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Author Q and A: Emily Carson

Multnomah Village resident publishes collection of meditations

MULTNOMAH - Combining spiritual teachings from Buddism, Taoism, Raja Yoga and more, Multnomah Village resident Emily Carson helps Portlanders throughout the city find the keys to clarity and personal growth.

Throughout the year, she holds quarterly public meetings and monthly silent meditations at the Portland Yoga Shala on Southeast Division Street as well as local retreats.

Now, touching on topics ranging from faith and intention to impermanence and death, Carson has gathered 60 meditative teachings from nine years of meetings together into 'Something Makes Me Open My Eyes: Meditations on Transcendence,' a title currently available at local book stores.

Along with Carson's meditations, the book features 20 complementary landscape paintings by Portland artist Jolyn Fry.

Published through Carson's non-profit organization, The Sound of Rain, the book is available locally at Annie Bloom's Books, located at 7834 S.W. Capitol Hwy., and New Renaissance Books in Northwest Portland.

Recently, Carson took a few minutes to answer a few questions about 'Something Made Me Open My Eyes;' here are her responses:

Claire Oliver: Tell me about the writing process for this book. What made you decide to release a collection of your teachings in written form?

Emily Carson: Each one- to two-page meditation began as a talk given at one of my sittings or retreats. I want my live audiences to be able to listen in a receptive, contemplative way without the distraction of trying to understand and retain everything I say cognitively. So that they can really relax into the experience, I transcribe the talks and question-and-answer periods for participants to look at later, at their leisure. I felt there was a whole world of people who don't come to events but would appreciate this same contemplative, reflective experience in their own homes, so I went through nine years of talks and chose 60 of the ones I felt best introduced the content of the teachings.

CO: Tell me about working with Jolyn Fry. What do her images contribute to the book?

EC: The text is best read slowly and deliberately, but that's not how most people read. When they have a painting to anchor them to the page, they're more likely to read in the same way they look at art, absorbing it rather than devouring it. Also, these particular paintings have, I think, the same contemplative feeling found in the meditations, so they tend to complement each other. I think the two together are stronger than either alone.

CO: Can you give me any examples of the teachings featured in the book?

EC: There are teachings on faith, intention, the mind, gratitude and death, to name just a few, but there are also many entries that are more invocations than teachings. There are a few fundamental principles, however, threaded throughout the meditations, regardless of tone or topic.

The first is a Buddhist insight. The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by attachment to impermanent things (everything from your job to your body to your identity). Therefore non-attachment - that is, the freedom to lose those things - brings happiness, which is our natural state when we are not suffering.

The second is a Taoist understanding of the fundamentally benign nature of all experience, which asserts that anything we feel, however painful we may deem it, is not only bearable but ultimately just part of the harmless 'is-ness' of all things. When we surrender to any experience, we find ourselves immersed in that 'is-ness'.

Last, there is the recurring theme that everything holy - and everything is holy - is love and that love is so vast, so unknowably deep and abundant, that it permeates everything. I think this principle is very like the Christian understanding that God is love. In all of these traditions, there is the fundamental understanding that the unspeakable, unknowable substratum of all that exists - whether that is referred to as Buddha nature, emptiness, the Way, God or love - is at the very least benign, if not blissful. It is this nature of things that makes surrender and loss, and ultimately transcendence, so rewarding.

CO: Can you tell me about the intended audience for this book?

EC: The people that respond to these teachings come from such disparate backgrounds that I don't think I can characterize them by any external features. But they all seem to have a sense that there is something - call it God, or spirit, or love or oneness - just beyond the reach of ordinary life, and they want more awareness of that. They also seem to all have a spontaneous love of the truth, even when it is difficult to hear. I am certain that there are many more people than I have met so far with these same longings, and it is for them that I put together this book.

CO: What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

EC: I am hoping to give people an experience, not an understanding or explanation. Whatever insight or wisdom may be gleaned from these pages, that is not the main point of the meditations. Rather it is my hope that they awaken something resonant and undeniable within the reader, however amorphous that internal movement may be. If someone has an experience of resonance or clarity or inspiration, then I have succeeded.

CO: Do you have any future works in progress?

EC: Probably not soon, as I'm pretty busy with my teaching schedule. But I was very happy with the book's overall look and format, and I hope to use the same template for additional volumes in the future.

CO: Will you be hosting events related to the book in the near future? How can someone attend one of your meetings?

EC: I hold quarterly public meetings at Yoga Shala Southeast on Southeast Division Street and Southeast 32nd Avenue; these are oriented toward people who've never sat with me before. The next meeting is Sunday, Oct. 30 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. I really encourage anyone who's curious to check this out.

We are also planning to hold a special sitting in honor of the book's release; details on that should be available in the next month or so.

For more information, visit www.soundofrain.org.