For all the pain and uncertainty of the past year, from week to week, we hoped that the interviews in Foreword This Week offered you a needed respite. As we do at the end of every year, we’re excited to offer you a curated selection of our favorite questions and responses from the year’s fifty-plus interviews between reviewers and authors. Please set aside five minutes to give this a thoughtful read—we know you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewer Kristine Morris Interviews Christopher S. Kilham, Author of The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice
Your book looks at how the combination of cannabis and yoga can unlock access to “unbounded states of consciousness.” What might this feel like for someone experiencing it for the first time, and what signs would indicate that one is, or is not, using the right amount of cannabis.
We are remarkable beings, capable of experiencing a broad variety of mental, emotional, and physical states. Cannabis-infused yoga helps to nudge us into greatly expanded states very easily. As our ego boundaries loosen and soften, we become more aware that nothing is actually separate from anything else. Carrying this forward in our minds and hearts helps us to appreciate the interconnectedness of everything, and can help to engender greater empathy and understanding. Also, the nervous system, which is activated by yoga, and the endocannabinoid system, activated by cannabis, work together to engender a greater sense of inner harmony. In terms of how much cannabis to infuse with, take in what elevates you, not what gets you trashed. This requires some experimentation.
Reviewer Kristine Morris Interviews Ben Hopkins, Author of Cathedral
The book takes on some very deep questions about religious faith, the nature of belief, and what those beliefs can do to those who hold them and to the world around them. What are your views about these things, and what led you to your views?
I suppose what I am is maybe unusual: I am an atheist who has always been very interested in religion and in mystical thinking. I read the Bible constantly. I find it fascinating. And I find religious ideas very attractive, very paradoxical, and very puzzling. In general, they make no sense to me, yet I’m drawn to them in deep curiosity.
One of the big problems of all religious belief is the problem of a perfect deity creating imperfection, or a good deity creating evil. Historically there have been various solutions for this problem, and in the period of my novel there was a heretical sect, widely known as the “Cathars,” who solved this problem by suggesting that the physical world belongs to the devil, and that behind the physical world, or beyond the physical world, there is a pure world of perfection into which the blessed may enter. It is in fact a very old solution to the problem, and I find it a very interesting one, and somehow quite scary, chilling, and atmospheric. In general, I have often seen that people in the medieval period believed the natural world to conceal terrible dangers. Even birdsong was seen by some priests as being the voice of the devil, tempting monks away from their prayers and meditations. The natural world was some kind of trap and snare that would distract the faithful away from their faith.
So, in a way, both the medieval Catholic Church and the heretical Cathars had a similar kind of belief when it came to the world: that this is a fallen world of sin, hidden evil, and danger, and that the world of the light, the world of perfection, comes only later. I find this denial of the beauty of our natural world to be a rather eerie belief, an atmospheric one that I was very happy to explore in the novel.
Executive Editor Matt Sutherland Interviews Annie Daly, Author of Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are
The Norwegians believe Mother Nature is a healing power like no other. Can you talk about their term friluftsliv, and the role it plays in Norwegian life? And, isn’t it intimidatingly cold and rainy up there?
Isn’t friluftsliv the best? Translated, it means “the free air life,” but pretty much every Norwegian I spoke to has their own personal definition, too. The gist is that it’s about intentionally spending as much time outside as you possibly can so that Mother Nature can work her magic on you—no matter the weather. It can get quite cold and rainy in the winter, yes, but Norwegians love to tell you that “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Many walk everywhere, rainy conditions aside, and they start this outdoor tradition young. The country has outdoor kindergartens, and many Norwegians even leave their babies in strollers outside in their yards, so that they feel comfortable sleeping in the great outdoors from the start.
But friluftsliv is also about making the time to get outside into deep nature, away from urban lights, to give yourself the chance to commune with Mother Earth. This is where the true mental clarity happens, the kind you can only achieve when you’re away from it all and you can finally relax. One Norwegian I interviewed described it perfectly: “It’s just this feeling that you get when you’re out in nature and you look around and you take a deep breath and it’s just … ahh.” Interestingly, friluftsliv isn’t necessarily about extreme nature sports, either. While I used to think that being an “outdoor person” meant I had to be one of those super active mountain climbers who subsists on power bars and adrenaline, it turns out that friluftsliv is a lot more chill—it’s more about getting yourself out into nature somewhere, maybe making a fire, drinking some coffee, and sighing ahh. That’s friluftsliv to me: one great big giant exhale.
Reviewer Michelle Anne Schingler Interviews Amal Awad, Author of In My Past Life I Was Cleopatra: A Skeptical Believer’s Journey through the New Age
Kudos to you: after reading your book, though I’ve resisted doing so for five years, I made a visit to my local New Age bookstore, browsed their rock/crystal selection, and earnestly looked for a stone that “spoke” to me. (I left with a sunstone, for calm.) You really helped to open me up to the benefits of this kind of, if not belief, exploration—and I think part of that is that you make it clear that you don’t have to accept everything to accept some of it, and that you can even do so in concert with other belief systems. For you, it was self-help titles initially; for me, perhaps it’s pagan lore. Is it okay, or even beneficial, to pick-and-choose from those elements that speak to you?
That’s wonderful! This is exactly the kind of outcome I would hope for with readers of the book—to feel comfortable and safe to explore, to find things that speak to you whether they are physical objects or mythos and so on. I think picking and choosing is beneficial if you are truly evolving in the process. We need tools less than props; what I mean by that is, you selected a crystal with great consideration, you had an intention and a preferred outcome (calm). That’s thoughtful and useful because you were the engineer of that process. You will use that crystal in your own way but because of how you approached it, it will most likely work for you.
But using things as props is arguably more performative—displaying the idea of something rather than actually experiencing it, which does not benefit you in the long term. This is where pick-and-mix gets tricky; are you really exploring or just taste-testing things without genuine or long-lasting transformation? Is it a photo for social media you want or to sit with an experience and keep it for yourself?
Exploring is essential to finding what speaks to you. And as I discuss in the book, doing so with respect and appreciation for where some of these traditions have come from is also something to consider.
Reviewer Erika Harlitz Kern Interviews Jen Gunter, Author of The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism
In The Menopause Manifesto, you make a connection between evolution, menopause, and grandmothers as the unsung heroes of human survival. I thought that was really interesting to read. I was wondering if you could unpack that connection a little bit?
The story of menopause, as written by the patriarchy, is one of “ovarian failure.” Meaning, women are inferior in some way because they stop ovulating and that we only know that women stop ovulating because they are finally living long enough for menopause. However, we have data that suggests otherwise. The grandmother hypothesis suggests that living beyond ovarian function provided a collective benefit to the family unit and is not a recent phenomenon. There is data that suggests a grandmother increases the number of grandchildren, and not because she was passing down fertility genetics, rather the physical proximity of a grandmother was what counted.
Pregnancy is a huge biological toll, as is breastfeeding and caring for a human infant. During that time a woman has a harder time foraging for food or, with a newborn, caring for other children. A grandmother helped with those tasks, increasing the survival of her grandchildren. A grandmother can only help if she isn’t saddled with young children herself, so the winding down of fertility before the last menstrual period meant an ancestral grandmother was more able to help.
So, those ancestral women who lived a little past their last ovulation and were helpful had more grandchildren, and so the genetics that favored living beyond ovarian function became dominant. It is a totally different narrative. Menopause is about survival and usefulness to the collective, it isn’t about failure or frailty.