Hold the Enlightenment: More Travel, Less Bliss


"In Hold the Enlightenment, America's favorite and funniest adventure writer returns with his most entertaining collection of essays yet, as he travels the globe and faces down challenges that are animal, topographical - and human." Hold the Enlightenment takes Tim Cahill to sites as far-flung as Saharan salt mines, the Congolese-jungle, and Hanford, Washington, home of the largest toxic-waste dump in the Western hemisphere. With his trademark wit and insight, Cahill describes stalking the legendry Caspian tiger in the mountains bordering Iraq,
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"In Hold the Enlightenment, America's favorite and funniest adventure writer returns with his most entertaining collection of essays yet, as he travels the globe and faces down challenges that are animal, topographical - and human." Hold the Enlightenment takes Tim Cahill to sites as far-flung as Saharan salt mines, the Congolese-jungle, and Hanford, Washington, home of the largest toxic-waste dump in the Western hemisphere. With his trademark wit and insight, Cahill describes stalking the legendry Caspian tiger in the mountains bordering Iraq, slogging through a pitch-black Australian eucalyptus forest to find the nocturnal platypus, diving with great white sharks in South Africa, staving off enlightenment at a yoga retreat in Jamaica, and much, much more. In these essays, vivid and masterly storytelling combine with outrageously sly humor and jolts of real emotion to show one of the most popular journalists of our time at the absolute peak of his game.
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
This collection of travel essays features fearless wanderer Tim Cahill battling driver ants, tsetse flies, and other vermin in the Congo; studying yoga in Jamaica; fleeing from bandits in the Sahara; and -- gasp! -- teaching a writing class in Indiana. As Cahill tells his students, travel writing does not necessarily require distance; and while many of his trips involve a degree of danger that seems to delight the author of Pass the Butterworms and Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, neither is personal endangerment a prerequisite. So what do these adventures have in common?

Well, Cahill is a master of observing the inane human behavior that transcends geography and amplifying it to hilarious effect. He devotes one piece, for instance, to the bug scream, described as, “a kind of high-pitched, astonished loathing, that combines the ‘eeewww’ of disgust with the ‘waah’ of abject terror.” But there’s something more than humor uniting the pieces in Hold the Enlightenment, which were culled from such varied publications as Modern Maturity, Yoga Journal, Outside magazine, and the anthology A Man’s Guide to Simple Abundance. It is, seemingly, the one thing that Cahill, who professes to be “pretty much clueless in the what-does-it-all-mean department,” fears. It’s the thread that holds the book together and yet it is subtle enough to avoid weighing down what is otherwise a riotous good time. Call it what you will -- gravity, depth, profundity…. Just don’t call it enlightenment. Karen Burns

Tyler D. Johnson
Cahill returns with another collection of perceptive, hilarious and touching travelogues disguised as misadventures. These thirty-one essays range from the intensely personal—Cahill's recovery from a fall in the Queen Charlotte Islands that nearly crippled him—to reportage on Ecuadoran volcanoes and the corollary political strife. The sheer number of countries, mountains, animals, languages and people discussed is staggering, but that is, in many ways, Cahill's point: The world is overwhelming, so get out there and revel in the glory and the mess. Beyond the grand hilarity and bluster, Cahill is chasing a richer world—and he usually succeeds, or at least limps home with one hell of a story.
Publishers Weekly
Organized in the "chaotic logic of a pinball in urgent play," this collection takes its reader from a yoga retreat in Jamaica to the mountains bordering Iraq as smoothly as it transitions between moments of sheer hilarity and utter poignancy. In essence, what Cahill (Pass the Butterworms) has done is display various snapshots of his own life and travels, allowing the reader to experience it as he does one episode at a time. In "The Terrible Land," Cahill travels to Hanford, Wash., on a stretch of the Columbia River that is pristine and, at the same time, the largest toxic waste dump in the Western Hemisphere. In "Evilfish," Cahill responds to an article in the New York Times in which the much-loved, friendly dolphin is revealed to be a joy-killer. With his trademark clarity and wit, Cahill manages to take the article's depiction of the animal with a permanent smile one step farther, citing studies of dolphin gang-rape and infanticide while poking fun at a society that views dolphins as Flipper. Cahill takes armchair travelers on a search for the elusive Caspian Tiger in the villages of southeastern Turkey and on a midnight trek through an Australian forest as a "Wiley Platypus Hunter." He recounts his first "Bug Scream," the reaction to a half-pound centipede dropping on his chest in the midst of the Congo Basin, and recalls the generosity of the people of his own small town in Montana. This is a collection with something for everyone; each story, in its own way, manages to raise the consciousness of the reader and reveals that the author, whether he wishes to admit it or not, is absolutely on the path to enlightenment. (Sept. 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
You might not choose to swim with great white sharks off the South African coast, visit an active volcano in Ecuador, cope with huge bugs in the Congo, stalk a platypus (did you know the males are venomous?) in the Australian night, or visit the Western hemisphere's largest toxic waste dump, but it's wonderful fun to experience these adventures through the eyes of intrepid journalist Cahill. The essays originally appeared in Outside and other magazines. Cahill (author of Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, Pecked to Death by Ducks, and other enticingly titled collections) is funny, thoughtful, and self-deprecating, and he is also a terrific writer. His pieces could be held up as examples of the essay form in English classes; I particularly liked "Gorillas in Our Schools," in which he entertainingly explains how an old football injury inadvertently led to a discovery about gorilla behavior. A delight for armchair adventurers; for all high school and public libraries. KLIATT Codes: SA*-Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 298p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Paula Rohrlick
Library Journal
Outside magazine travel columnist Cahill (Pecked to Death by Ducks) explains that "an adventure is never an adventure when it happens. [A]n adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility." In the 30 essays that make up this collection, Cahill recounts visiting salt mines in Mali during a sand storm, quaffing snake-blood cocktails in China, and observing erupting volcanoes near Quito. The locales, which vary from far-flung places to those nearer the author's home in Livingston, MT, have infinite variety and hold the reader's interest. Cahill, whose background includes teaching travel writing, is a skilled narrator and stylist. He writes with humor and insight with occasional jabs at contemporary culture. He has a lot in common with travel enthusiast Robert Young Pelton (The Adventurist: My Life in Dangerous Places). In fact, the essay "The World's Most Dangerous Friend" describes their relationship. Highly recommended for travel collections in public libraries. Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three decades of getting himself into strange circumstances and harm's way haven't slowed down Cahill (Pass the Butterworms, 1997, etc.), as this new collection of adventure-travel pieces attests. Like a glass of Puligny-Montrachet, Cahill is peerless. His intents-to bring back reports of adventure and peculiar doings in the field-are entertaining and provocative if seemingly mad, the locales often murderous in mores ways than one, while the writing, with its low humor and sneaky insights, is pure pleasure of its own kind. This gathering of 30 articles (from National Geographic Adventurer and elsewhere) has all of the author's talents on display: his gift for the apt simile, however crude ("Like Cuban toilet paper, Tommy the Turk doesn't take shit off anyone"); his knack for inflating and puncturing his subjects-himself included-in one breath ("Bob Perkins is perhaps America's best-known atlatl maker and theoretician. This is not to suggest in any way that he is universally respected"); his facility for leads that will kindle interest in any reader ("It was a money-laundering scheme for rapacious dimwits and hoggish simpletons"); and, best of all, his stamina, allowing him to write the whole story with the same artful brio. He's ready with advice on traveling with strangers: "If he acted recklessly in seriously terrifying situations-I'd just make myself scarce and let him deal with the fallout. Jerks die." He's out there, reporting from the remote-chasing the rumor of a Caspian tiger; outfoxing a Malian warlord for a chance to visit a godawful salt mine; encouraging a class of third-graders to behave like forest gorillas; letting salt-hungry bees in the Congo feast in hisarmpits-reminding us that outlandish acts of travel and experience are still available and, in the most elemental fashion, vivifying. What good fortune it is to be back in the saddle with Cahill, letting him take the heat while we look over his shoulder.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375507663
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/3/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Cahill is the author of six previous books, including A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg, Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, and Pass the Butterworms. He is an editor at large for Outside magazine, and his work appears in National Geographic Adventure, The New York Times Book Review, and other national publications. He lives in Montana.
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Read an Excerpt

Hold the Enlightenment

I am not a yoga kinda guy. Yoga people are sensitive, aware, largely sober, slender, double-jointed, humorless vegans who are concerned with their own spiritual welfare and don't hesitate to tell you about it. They are spiritually intense and consequently enormously boring in the manner of folks who, in their own self-absorption, feel you ought be alerted as to the quantity and texture of their last bowel movement.

Or so I used to think.

But there I was, taking my first yoga class, in an open-sided bar/restaurant while, a few hundred feet below, the Caribbean Sea exploded off the high coral cliffs of Negril, Jamaica. I was doing some position, an asana, that was something like what I'd call a wrestler's bridge: it required balancing on my head and hands up top, and the soles of my feet below. Hotel employees had removed tables and chairs from the restaurant for this class, and, because I was apprehensive, I'd positioned myself in the area where I felt most comfortable, which is to say, next to the bar. In the field of my vision, I could see an upside-down line of several bottles of rum, and, above them, a black-and-white picture of Bob Marley, the patron saint of Jamaican reggae. There is a picture of Bob Marley in every single bar in Jamaica. I know: I've done the research. One of Marley's best songs has a line that goes "Every little thing, is going to be all right." That, I decided, was my mantra.

I'm a writer, of sorts. My job, such as it is, requires me to travel to remote countries, where I have, in the past few decades, covered the drug/guerrilla war in Colombia, investigated the murder of an American in the junglesof Peru, dived with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa, and sat negotiating my fate with Tuareg warlords in the southern Sahara. Pretty hairy-chested stuff, but the truth is, I was a little scared about meeting all the yoga folks in Jamaica. There's a lot of testosterone involved in what I do. I assumed that yoga people would perceive me as some sort of throwback: a Neolithic macho, and an abyss of awareness.

Well, everybody wants to be liked, and I deeply feared the scorn of the assembled yogis and yoginis. The books I read before coming to Jamaica had calmed me somewhat: yoga, I learned, is not a religion, and you can take from it what you will. Go only for the physical benefits: fine, yoga doesn't have a problem with that. Use it for stress relief and meditation: sure, okay. Or a person might opt for a total yoga lifestyle, which includes diet, meditation, and the search for enlightenment. Take from it what you will: yoga, according to the books, doesn't give a rat's ass.

But I assumed that people who would choose to spend their vacations doing four hours of yoga a day would be lifestyle folks, the kind of weenies who might sneer at my own rather soiled lifestyle. I feared my classmates would be holier than thou, or, in any case, holier than I, which is pretty much a slam dunk.

In fact, my classmates-a couple of dozen of them-did not appear at all the way I thought yoga people were supposed to look. The men were not little weenie guys, for one thing, and there were several of them there-I only say this out of journalistic integrity-who probably could have taken me at arm wrestling. The women-whose ages spanned a couple of generations-were not hippie burnouts and acid crawlbacks. None wore patchouli oil, and an extraordinary number of them were highly attractive. The rest were just conventionally good-looking. Don't misunderstand: I was with my wife, and I am not single and looking. But if I were, I'd take yoga classes, if only to meet chicks.

Our instructors were John Schumacher, founder and director of Unity Woods, a studio with locations throughout the East, and Barbara Benagh of Boston's Yoga Studio. We had started the class by introducing ourselves and talking about our experience with yoga. Several of the students had studied for twenty years or more. My wife and I were the only total beginners, but, when my turn came, I told the assembled yogis, "I haven't done any yoga physically, but I've read three entire books and figure I know everything there is to know about it."

There was a brief moment of silence, and I thought, yep, humorless. And then the class burst into laughter. Not a lot of it. It wasn't that good a joke. I looked up at Bob Marley and thought: Every little thing, is going to be all right. The books in question had been sent to me by Todd Jones of Yoga Journal, who had asked me to write a story about my first yoga class. Todd said he was looking for "a view of our little subculture from the outside." That seemed fair enough, and I asked him if he could mail me some introductory texts.

He sent yoga books appropriately addressed to dummies and idiots, along with Erich Schiffmann's Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, which I found well written but a bit on the ethereal side, at least for me. I figured yoga kinda guys might get a lot out of it.

What I was able to glean from all this material was that the poses, or asanas, were developed thousands of years ago to give people control over their bodies. Such control is essentially for yogic meditation. The purpose and goal of meditation is the bliss of eventual enlightenment. That stopped me cold. Enlightenment? No sir, whoa Nellie. None of that whoop-de-do for me, thank you very much.

The Enlightened Masters I have read are invariably incomprehensible and the Masters themselves are entirely incapable of constructing a single coherent English sentence. I'm not discussing someone like Eric Schiffmann, who is actually very good. What I'm talking about here is Flat Out Enlightenment, which is mostly unintelligible gibberish and reads to me like someone swimming through a thick custard of delirium. And don't think I don't know my Enlightened Masters. I've been to ashrams in India, power spots, and convergence points and "vortices" in California and Colorado and New Mexico. I have spent time chatting to a woman with many, many followers who lives near my home in Montana and who channels Enlightened Masters all day long as if making calls on a cellular phone.

The link between them all-the convergence people, the gurus, the Enlightened-is that, in their written materials anyway, they don't make any sense at all. For that reason they all are self-published, which is to say, they themselves pay someone else to publish the work in question. As a professional writer, I prefer the opposite strategy, in which the publisher pays you. Enlightenment, my reading suggested, is an exceedingly poor career path for a writer.

Oh, I knew bliss and enlightenment aren't often achieved. It said as much in each of the books I read. One strives toward the light. Okay, I'd buy that, sure, but what if I turned out to be one of those guys who just happens to "get it" straight away? What if I was an anomaly? I'd crank out a few asanas, sit cross-legged, thinking- but-not-thinking, and all of a sudden, flash-bang, I'd see it all: the meaning of life, my own connection to the cosmos, and the blinding curve of energy that is the pulsing soul of universal consciousness itself, and I'd know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that at that moment, I was completely and irrevocably screwed.

Enlightened people are dead meat in the publishing industry. I'd lose my jobs, such as they are. My mortgage would go unpaid, my wife would leave me, and I'd wander the earth in ragged clothes, informing the less spiritually fortunate of a consciousness above and beyond. Perhaps those people might give me a few coins with which I could buy a scrap of bread. This is to say that, in my mind, enlightenment and homelessness are synonymous situations. I called Todd Jones back at Yoga Journal and said I'd take the course, but I intended to resist enlightenment. And if, through some cruel trick of fate, I did become enlightened, I was going to go out there to Berkeley, California, and kick his ass.

So, there I was, three days into the yoga vacation, with twelve big hours of yoga under my belt. I had feared, on the whole, that yoga might be too light a workout for me: a bunch of sissy stuff about standing on one leg for a couple of breaths. I typically run (or plod) two miles a day, occasionally lift weights, and stretch assiduously. I had called Todd Jones before I left and asked if he couldn't get me into one of the more sweaty disciplines, some kind of power yoga.

"If I put you, as an absolute beginner, in an ashtanga class for a week," Todd said mildly, "you really would kick my ass."

He was right about that. I was able to do many of the asanas, but it had never occurred to me that once you attained the position, it was necessary to keep working through it. It never got any easier. If you did it right, you were always working at the very edge of what you could do. In a typical four-hour day, I felt I'd gotten a pretty good physical workout, and each would have been a lot more effective if I could have done some of the more advanced work we typically did late in the session. Todd Jones was right about ahstanga.

I was standing at the bar after an afternoon class, having a beer and a cigarette, when John Schumacher stopped by for a chat. I was wearing a T-shirt I had bought from John, who runs the Unity Woods Yoga Center. The shirt featured a large triangle whose legs read: "serenity," "awareness," "health."

"I suppose," I said, "I'm a bad advertisement for Unity Woods."

"Not at all," John said. "We'll just add the words 'not applicable.' "

Copyright 2002 by Tim Cahill
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Table of Contents

Unattractive to the Opposite Sex: An Introduction
Hold the Enlightenment 3
The Search for the Caspian Tiger 11
Bug Scream 28
The Platypus Hunter 36
Fire and Ice and Everything Nice 43
The Caravan of White Gold 51
The Terrible Land 78
The House of Boots 86
This Teeming Ark 94
Near Massacre Ranch 103
Fubsy Hors D'oeuvres 111
Gorillas in Our Schools 118
Powder Keg 124
The Entranced Duck 144
Castle and More Castles 151
Culinary Schadenfreude 158
Swimming with Great White Sharks 165
Atlatl Bob's Splendid Lack of Simple Sanity 179
Stutter 187
Fully Unprepared 188
Evilfish 195
The World's Most Dangerous Friend 202
Collision Course 222
The Big Muddy 229
Professor Cahill's Travel 101 242
The Cowpersons of Tanzania 249
My Brother, the Pot Dealer 265
Dirty Money 274
Panic 283
Trusty and Grace 290
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