Book Review: Tasting the Moon, by Meg Fortune McDonnell

Full disclosure: I first met Meg Fortune McDonnell in 1980 when I arrived in California to join the community that grew up around the spiritual teacher she describes in her memoir. Unlike Meg, who embraced a relationship to her teacher that lasted a lifetime, I was more of a dilettante, dropping out of the community in 1986 and, for the last ten years, re-approaching as a friend and advocate, not a full-blown practitioner. I have a profound respect for Adi Da Samraj, a teacher who has authored over 80 books of spiritual insight, as well as a prolific artist. (For a taste of both, go to www.da-peace.org and www.daplastique.com, respectively.) I also appreciate that the story Meg tells is of value not just to those who share an interest in this particular teacher, or even those who are sympathetic to the possibility of spiritual life in general, but to anyone with an interest in a different perspective on the meaning of life.

Tasting the Moon Tasting the Moon is a challenging book, 723 pages of observations on the meaning of life, death, transcendence and everything in between; fortunately it is written as a page-turner that makes compelling reading. The author, Meg Fortune McDonnell, dedicated herself to learning from an unusual spiritual teacher she met in the mid-70s and she’s stuck with ever since. She tackles the rewards and challenges of spiritual life head-on.

As a first-hand report on what one expert called “the most penetrating social & spiritual experiment on the planet” (p. 199) her story deserves to be widely read.

The things I liked about this book include:

  • She tells a story that is hers alone, with the constant reminder that “your mileage might vary” as well as a gentle admonition “not to try this at home”. The most compelling thing about the book is Meg’s voice. She writes in wonderfully clear prose that speaks directly to the reader and throughout the book she uses “Excellent Phrasing” (a playful name her teacher gives her, pgs. 85-86).
  • Her honesty. I can only guess at the discriminative choices she made as she trod the fine line between being totally honest with herself and yet sensitive to the privacy of her friends. The use of her own name is a courageous “coming out” (p. 221) in a society where having a guru is so controversial. This, coupled with the decision to use fictional names for everyone else except Adi Da is a wise move (even though many members of her community must be having a fine time second-guessing who is who.)
  • Her scholarship and learning, which she wears in a refreshingly light manner. I got a huge kick out of her early references — having read many of same books she had before she encountered her teacher (Castaneda; Kerouac; Orwell; Bettleheim) — and then enjoyed hearing about the many books I’ve not read from the list of traditional spiritual texts Adi Da introduced her to, and the way she weaves anecdotes from multiple traditions into the story.
  • Most of all, her obvious love for the guru and the many wonderful descriptions of her spiritual experiences in his company, occasions in which the power of his blessing fills the room and transports her to remarkable states of awareness.

Her story begins in small town Ohio and encompasses the experimental lifestyles of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. She shares her enjoyment of the “gob-smacking delicious” life in a rural tipi; teaching in the inner city; dance-therapy and improv theater. She followed in the footsteps of Kerouac and Kesey until, as for me and many of my friends, someone gave her a copy of a book by Bubba Free John (Adi Da’s earliest teaching name) and she landed up on Polk Street in San Francisco in 1975 where she met the “earth-mothers with big hair and slight men with big brains who greeted us and helped us get started.”

The next 30 years with her guru includes a comprehensive review of the varied considerations he engaged in with those close to him and the wider community. Topics covered include:

  • The evolution of gender roles and sexual politics as they affect empowered women
  • The challenges and benefits of monogamy, celibacy and alternative lifestyles for intimate relationships
  • Program management in non-profit organizations
  • Understanding the ways photography undermines a singular “point of view” to represent both Art and blessing
  • Public relations and crisis management in times of negative press coverage
  • Early childhood through late adolescent educational programs
  • The role of exercise, diet and yoga for optimal health
  • The importance for public speakers to first relate to people in an audience before presenting ideas: “Love comes first, information second.” (p. 274)
  • The ways by which true prayer can ameliorate global conflict and individual suffering
  • A dismissal of the Oxfordian theorists claims that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays (really!)
  • Irrefutable evidence that the Shroud of Turin is not authentic
  • Zen and the art of unicycle maintenance (again, really!)

Above all, this book is a sophisticated analysis of the process of guru devotion as a path to realization for contemporary men and women. And therein, for most readers, lies the challenge. This is a controversial topic. Meg’s book is a compelling narrative that describes the rewards experienced by an accomplished and intelligent women who dedicated her life to spiritual practice. She reviews the relevance of traditional Eastern and Western religious teaching on the value of a direct relationship with a spiritual master. While she draws on extensive knowledge of the literature, this is no dry scholarly analysis. Her story is enlivened by her first-hand reports of out-of-the-body experiences; dreams; boundary-less awareness and the experience of witnessing at close quarters a being who was able to “compress infinite awareness, the eternal state of being…into a human body” (p. 628)

Her major accomplishment is to have shared what it was like to fully heart-participate with Adi Da during his life on this Earth, to “taste the Moon” and tell the tale for the rest of us to enjoy.

2 Comments so far
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Have not read it yet but look forward to doing so. Like your energetic, well written review, Ian…

Thank you for this post. It sounds to be a most worthwhile publication. I must investigate…



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