I only have one small criticism of this book, which is that Keeney forgot to put any words in it. Amazingly, it doesn't contain a single word in all of its 266 pages. Actually, when you open this book, words - all words, everywhere - seem to completely disappear. If you don't know what I'm talking about or don't believe me, then you may have to go ahead and read some of the words in his book. Then you too will see that it doesn't actually contain any. (The book does sing, however, so it's not a total rip-off - you do get something for your money.)
But that's just a quibble. This is the best book I've ever read about aboriginal people or spirituality. I've read many, hoping all the while for what Keeney offers us here: an opening into the inner world of humans in our most natural, unadorned state of being. I have longed for this for years. So it makes me happier than any book ever has to finally hear the things that Keeney describes.
And what a way of talking he has! A way that clears away everything unnecessary, adds everything insane, and goes right to the simple, fully-feeling heart of it all: human life is spiritual to its very core. For caring about life so much that he allowed his whole being to enter fully into the very heart of life and for then taking the time to share his experiences with all of us in such a straight-but-insane way, Keeney feels like a true brother to me - the closest of kin, a kindred soul. Now I really see why the Bushmen - and all aboriginal people - always insist on relating to everyone - and everything - as kin. That's how it feels when you live from your crazy heart.
Hearing him describe it, I see no reason to doubt that n|um - as the Bushmen refer to the experience of giving yourself over to feeling so totally that you are swept away, in ecstasy, to the spirit realm - is the basis of, and the undistorted model for, all of the ki- (or chi-) based practices of the Far East and of the kundalini- and shaktipat-based yogic and tantric practices of India; no reason to doubt that Keeney is revealing to us the most raw, primal, accessible, and pure form of spirituality that is our natural human birthright; no reason to doubt that we were all born to enter the River N|um and to live in the spontaneous, free, flowing, loving, lighthearted, utterly mad, and totally giving and sharing way he describes. On this basis alone, I would give this book six stars - or ten, or a thousand, or ten thousand - if they were available. Yes - ten thousand would be the correct number because this book provides us - those of us in the modern, civilized, westernized world - with something we have not had for about ten thousand years: a reference point for what is truly natural and normal for the human species. I don't think I could overstate the value of this gift that the Bushmen and Keeney are giving us - so I won't try. There's nothing to do with a gift this huge but unwrap it.
But...I have a really BIG "but" here (although I'm quite slender otherwise). As Keeney - along with the Bushmen - says, the "arrows of n|um" can only penetrate you if you are "soft"; that is, if you can let down your defensive armor. Keeney himself spontaneously tumbled into the spiritual ecstasy of n|um for the first time as a nineteen-year old as a result of playing the piano with great feeling - long before he ever encountered or knew anything about the Bushmen. So obviously, he was quite soft to begin with. And he describes the unusually supportive childhood/family background that allowed him to remain soft. The thing is, many of us in the western world have not had anything like the upbringing Keeney had and are encrusted with thick layers of defensive armoring as a result. I believe that this dictates a different approach to n|um for some of us.
What I have seen (mainly in experiences within the community of people practicing a spontaneous form of yoga, where totally wild and free, n|um-like movement was encouraged) is that, the more defenses a person has (especially the repressed, totally hidden kind), the more violently and militantly they will attempt to throw themselves into being "spontaneous" and "free." It is so tempting, once you learn of the greater possibilities of the spiritual journey, to try to just push past any "yucky" defenses and repressed areas - without ever even really realizing that you are doing this. It is our usual, forceful, unfeeling, western approach to life, but now dressed up as "spirituality." It's still an attempt to control and conquer what you like and to eliminate or kill what you don't like. The end result of this pushy approach: defenses that are stronger, more rigid, and more deeply buried than ever.
I am not suggesting that the Bushmen's/Keeney's approach won't work for anyone in the west. Obviously it worked for Keeney himself, and no doubt it will for many others as well. So if you decide to throw yourself into this approach, and if it works for you - if you can allow yourself to be softened up and truly enter into the flow of n|um - then great! Go for it and don't ever look back. But if, after trying it for a reasonable amount of time, you are unable to enter into n|um in any significant way - and especially if you know that you come from a background where, as a child, you were often humiliated and hurt; where intellect, rationality, and forceful achievement were prized and feeling and authentic expression were dismissed, disparaged, forbidden, or even punished and attacked; where you always had to be "careful" and pretend to be something you were not - as is true for so many of us in the modern world - then I would warn against falling into the never-ending trap of just soldiering on and continually beating your head against a wall by telling yourself things like, "I just need to get past my resistance," or "I just need to learn to trust and let go," or "I just need to grasp these concepts more clearly," or "I just need to soften up a bit more," and so on.
If none of Keeney's ways of softening up seem to work for you, there may be a good reason for this. You may have crossed a critical threshold - one that more and more people are crossing these days - where you have such deeply repressed defenses that none of the usual ways of softening up that have worked for people in the past will work for you. If this is the case, you may want to consider that a somewhat different approach may be necessary, at least for a little while. You may find it necessary to do some preliminary work specifically aimed at uncovering those hidden defenses (unknowingly erected against whatever you may have gone through in your childhood) and then feeling the feelings buried under those defenses.
Being "soft" means saying "yes" to pure feeling in a whole-hearted, whole-bodied way. If you are not whole-hearted and whole-bodied enough to leave your mind behind and enter into pure feeling, n|um simply cannot be ignited. Repression is a hidden way - hidden even from ourselves - of saying "no" to specific feelings, which keeps us locked in our minds. If this repressed "no" is strong enough, it will override all of our attempts at saying "yes." This is the "critical threshold" that many of us in the modern world are crossing. In this case, we will not be able to proceed unless we work in a way that is specifically designed to root out our repressed "nos" by, first, making them conscious and then, second, feeling the feelings they cover up. Once we can do this, we will have regained the natural ability to say "yes" with our whole being and we will have the softness needed to pick up the journey where Keeney and the Bushmen begin it. You can think of this as a kind of remedial class on becoming fully feeling for modern people who have slipped behind in their "feeling skills."
This preliminary work may sound like precisely the kind of intellectual "psychobabble" that Keeney correctly warns us to avoid because it blocks n|um. It isn't. The approach I'm describing is of the exact same nature as opening to n|um: it is simply another aspect of opening to pure feeling - only in this case, it happens to be focused on the specific feelings that many of us split off and pushed away a long time ago and that we are still (unknowingly) caught up in pushing away to this day. "Psychology" talks about and analyzes repressed feelings, but it always stops short of entering into those feelings all the way. That is the key that all psychotherapies miss in one way or another.
The only difference between what I am describing and taking the full dive into n|um that Keeney describes is that a specific focus is used to counteract or offset the automatic tendency we may have developed to avoid specific feelings. That's the remedial part. But apart from that, it is still an entry into the world of pure, true, full, wild, and free feeling. So if you find that you need it, and can follow the current of this remedial tributary of the River N|um, it will gradually soften up even the thickest bullet-proof (never mind arrow-proof) armor as no amount of willful striving, mentally understanding, or "faking it till you make it" ever could; and so it will gradually - in a most surprising way - begin to open you up to that grand vista of spontaneous joy that is, as our brother Keeney shows us, our human heritage, birthright, and true, eternal home.