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Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation (Paperback)
On the day her first book came out—a new translation of Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross—Mirabai Starr’s daughter, Jenny, was killed in a car accident. "My spiritual life began the day my daughter died," writes Mirabai. Even with decades of spiritual practice and a deep immersion in the greatest mystical texts, she found herself utterly unprepared for "my most powerful catalyst for transformation, my fiercest and most compassionate teacher."
With Caravan of No Despair, Mirabai shares an irreverent, uplifting, and intimate memoir of her extraordinary life journey. Through the many twists and turns of her life—including a tangled relationship with a charlatan-guru, her unexpected connection with the great Christian mystics, and the loss of her daughter—Mirabai finds the courage to remain open and defenseless before the mystery of the divine. "Tragedy and trauma are not guarantees for a transformational spiritual experience," writes Mirabai Starr, "but they are opportunities. They are invitations to sit in the fire and allow it to transfigure us."
About the Author
Mirabai Starr teaches philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico, and is the author of new translations of Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross and The Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by Teresa of Avila. She lives in Taos.
“A memoir about writing through a devastating loss. Years of work on a book, especially your first, make the day of publication a special occasion. You can't put such effort into a project without feeling a deep satisfaction when it comes to fruition; some writers compare it to welcoming a new child. Starr's (God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 2012, etc.) first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul, came into the world in 2002 on the same day a police officer showed up to tell her that her daughter had died the night before in a car accident. The author understands that her spiritual journey can be best understood by setting the stage, introducing the players, and exploring the stories of the people she would turn to and rely on through the grief to come. As such, she writes about her convoluted upbringing. ‘The prevailing language of our extended family was sarcasm,’ she writes, ‘and everyone seemed to have concluded that I was linguistically impaired. When my feelings were hurt (every few minutes, it seemed), that was because I had no sense of humor.’ Surrounded by her family's substance abuse and open relationships, Starr turned to Eastern spirituality early on. She worked as an assistant for famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, but another spiritual guide took advantage of her adolescent innocence and tricked her into a sexual relationship, followed by a predictably degrading marriage. Starr takes a curious, almost journalistic approach to relating these events of her early years. There's no sense of judgment of anybody who contributed to her tumultuous transition into adulthood. Also curious is the seeming disconnectedness of the first half of the book from the second half, but she brings them together toward the end, linking her spiritual travails to harrowing writing about her grief over her daughter. Difficult reading at times, but the sometimes-scattershot nature of the book fits the chaotic nature of the author's grief.” —Kirkus Reviews
“From the moment I began Mirabai’s personal story, I could not put it down. Though every word is the truth, her journey to becoming the brilliant mystic and writer she is today is as compelling and gritty as a great piece of fiction. I honor her for sharing her life so openly and so honestly. This is a magnificent mind-body-soul trek that really does lead to God.” —Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit and Sacred Contracts
“This is a wonderful and extremely moving book, by far the best memoir of loss and rebirth that I have read. Mirabai Starr has given us—in the plainest and most raw and pure form—the essence of what it means to transmute extreme suffering into new life.” —Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activist
“Mirabai Starr’s Caravan of No Despair is a heartbreaking, raw, vulnerable, and beautifully poignant memoir. And yet it’s so much more than that. This book inspired me—as I believe it will anyone who reads it—to go deeper into my own broken pieces while cultivating greater fearlessness and compassion for myself and others in the process. This is one of the most heartfelt and truth-inspiring books I’ve ever read. Thank you, Mirabai, for this gift.” —Chris Grosso, author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality and Everything Mind: What I’ve Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening, and the Mind-Blowing Truth of It All
“Mirabai Starr is a wonder. Nearly unique in her heart’s cradling of so many saints and adepts in her previous dozen highly regarded biographies, now, thankfully, she shares a biography of her own heart and the transitions, losses and insights, darkness and light, that so evidently brought it all to the surface. A deep bow for her generosity sharing her climb up the loose rungs of Jacob’s Ladder.” —Stephen Levine (Who Dies, One Year to Live, and Kuan Yin) & Ondrea Levine (The Healing I Took Birth For)
“Caravan of No Despair is a stunning memoir from author, poet, and teacher Mirabai Starr that portrays her blossoming into a modern day mystic. But when her young daughter Jenny tragically dies on the day of publication of Mirabai’s first book, Dark Night of the Soul, everything she has learned about spirituality fails her. As Mirabai goes through her own dark night, she brings us deeply into her mystical surrender to grief. We transform with her as pain becomes healing. Mirabai has given us a precious compass to navigate the waters of loss with grace. Bravo!” —Annie Kagan, bestselling author of The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There’s Life After Death
“From the memorable title to the memorable ending, you will be haunted, attracted, and transformed by Mirabai's integrity and message. Plus the writing itself will carry you along! Don't miss such an opportunity, such a grace, and such a ride!” —Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation
“Like all great memoirs, Caravan of No Despair is a one-of-a-kind story sung in a melody that touches every soul. Mirabai’s journey carries us through Rumi’s heart of paradox, from unspeakable pain to sublime blessings, at once profoundly human and ecstatically transcendent.” —Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation—How Indian Spirituality Changed the West
“Caravan of No Despair is a shimmering offering from a heart that’s been broken open by life and death. The holiness that tears through these pages doesn’t come from a mountaintop, lofty ideas, or a meditation cushion, but instead from revealing the almost unbearable joy and pain of being wholly human. Baring her all, Mirabai gifts us with a darkly luminous love story and we are forever changed as a result.” —Sera Beak, author of Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story
“This book, a little miracle, arose out of Starr’s recognition that grief, if experienced to the fullest, might open the soul up to something very, very holy. Her breathtaking story filled me with courage and joy I didn't know I had. This book will forever change the way we think not only about dying but about being alive.” —Demetria Martinez, author of Mother Tongue
“Mirabai Starr has written a compellingly moving and heartfelt memoir of profound loss and spiritual transformation. As an inter-spiritual bridge-builder and translator of the great mystics, Mirabai brings unique and profound insights to her life’s journey, including her counterculture childhood and her daughter’s life and tragic death. A deeply revealing book that transcends pain to become an inspiration.” —David Frenette, author of The Path of Centering Prayer
“By turns heartbreaking, lyrical, humorous, and poignant, this caravan carries not a hint of despair. Calling all mystics and seekers to get on board!” —Sean Murphy, author of One Bird, One Stone: 108 Contemporary Zen Stories and The Time of New Weather
“An absorbing story of love and loss, Caravan of No Despair brings the depth of a mother’s grief and healing fully to life. Mirabai’s open heart and growing wisdom shine through the telling of her own story.” —Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness
“Of the many—I think too many—who accept the name of spiritual teacher these days, Mirabai Starr is one of the few I personally know whom I would trust with a beloved daughter or son if I had one. And to me that is saying a lot. I don't think she can lift the Sun from her purse—from her heart—whenever she wants and place it into another’s pocket (as a great saint could), but I feel God trusts her, and that many can benefit from reading this book and personally spending time with her.” —Daniel Ladinsky, bestselling Penguin author and poet
“Caravan of No Despair has all the force and radiance of the story it tells. Mirabai Starr describes the loss of a child with unrelenting heart. Then, just as you feel that you will be lost with her in the searing pain, her grief opens a gate through which love and beauty pour out in streams of light. Beautifully written. How rare to find the words to describe such depths of being.” —Paula D’Arcy, author of Gift of the Red Bird and Waking Up To This Day
“So deep and real. Thank you, Mirabai Starr, for letting us share your journey through the darkness of despair into the open sky of love.” —Krishna Das, bestselling chant artist and author of Chants of a Lifetime
“It’s more of a roller coaster than a caravan, so get ready: Mirabai Starr’s gorgeous new book will leave you reeling. It’s not just the dizzying ascents and the terrifying freefalls, although both are in plentiful supply, it’s the extraordinary framework she provides as a seer, a seeker, and a pilgrim on the holiest of paths.” —Lara Santoro, award-winning author of Mercy and The Boy
“A life-giving story with strong narrative drive and humor thrown in at exquisite moments. Fine, detailed writing. A clear-eyed journey through the grief of loss and of youth snatched away too early. Starr has created a beautiful, inspirational telling of a life that speaks to us all.” —Natalie Goldberg, author of The True Secret of Writing
“Love is a fire. Grief is a bellows that fans it to white-hot intensity. When that fire burns out, what’s left may be ashes and desolation. Or it may be the distilled incandescence of a soul.
Mirabai Starr lives that inferno of grief and emerges annealed to a new alloy of spirit. She draws water from a well of love and compassion to temper the blazing sword of wisdom. She brings that wisdom—from saints like Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and Neem Karoli Baba—into immediate experience. Through her we see how one may barely begin to bear the unbearable. Mirabai’s memoir is poetry of the spirit, of a mother’s loss, and of the renewal of a heart’s connection beyond the body. She doesn’t paper over despair; she comes to terms with it. Caravan of No Despair is a rainbow tapestry of spiritual teachings from Christian mystics, Sufi poets, Buddhist monks, and Hindu gurus. Such teachings don’t end; they just keep on beginning.” —Rameshwar Das, coauthor of Be Love Now and Polishing the Mirror(with Ram Dass)