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A Curious Year

In The

Great Vivarium Experiment

A novel by Tim Shields

*If you are buying from outside the US, change the Amazon URL to your home country.
It is also likely available at other online bookstores in your country. 

The Story

vi·var·i·um [vahy-vair-ee-uhm, vi-]
a place, such as a laboratory, where live animals or plants are kept under
conditions simulating their natural environment, as for research.

Spirit brought me into the world.
The body carried me through the world.
And the mind sent me in search of the world.

So begins A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment. On the surface, it's a story about a man in his mid-30’s coming to terms with the death of his parents. Beneath the facade, however, it’s a multi-layered literary novel in three parts (Spirit, Body, Mind) about an artist searching for his voice, a writer searching for his story, and the power of gratitude and intention to create our reality. Drawing on the themes of childhood, the search for self, and the quest for self-realization, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment takes the reader on a journey into Thomas Furey’s inner life as he travels throughout India and Southeast Asia for exactly one year.

Using a gratitude/intention journal as a structural element, the catalyst for the story is the morning of Thomas’ 36th birthday, which finds him jobless, without a relationship, or any of the other successes his friends seemed to have. Having just returned from his mother’s funeral, he decides to buy a one-way ticket to India. Possessed by fear, armed with hope, protected by naivety, and guided by intention, from the moment Thomas begins to act in alignment with his true self, serendipity intervenes.

Throughout the course of exactly one year, Thomas finds himself volunteering for a Nobel Prize winner in India, working as the assistant to a delinquent school photographer in Vietnam and China, drinking his way through Laos and Cambodia, wallowing in the depths of loneliness in Thailand, experiencing a moral hangover in the Philippines, and after having just rekindled a love affair in Sri Lanka, believes he may meet his end.

The course above charts a roadmap for Thomas’s spiritual, mental, and emotional growth as he wrestles with the death of his parents, heals the wounds of his past to create a new future, and attempts to surrender his fears for a greater vision of himself.

But threatening his security, safety, and success is the veil. Something he can feel more than name, the veil is a shadowy force that has haunted his life and dreams for as long as he can remember. Terrified by whatever is behind it, the veil threatens to lead him down a trail of self-destruction, all the while obfuscating a truth central to his life.

Throughout his year of travel, like the breath of life that animates his body, Thomas moves through a series of joyful expansions and painful contractions as he drifts through women and excess, paralyzing fear and self-doubt, fathomless loneliness and unbounded gratitude, and the terrifying and ultimate realization that he is infinitely more powerful than he ever could have imagined.

At its most human level, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment is about the journey of overcoming the self. At the archetypal level, it’s the hero’s journey towards self-realization/actualization. Ultimately, it’s about the fact that each of us are the heroes we’ve been waiting for.

No matter where the reader is in their life’s journey, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment is a story about the transformation and awareness that occurs in awakening.

*If you are buying from outside the US, change the Amazon URL to your home country.
It is also likely available at other online bookstores in your country. 

The Trailer

*For optimal results, expand to the size of your screen, put on headphones, crank it up, and listen until the end of the musical score.

**To learn more about the book’s accompanying original soundtrack, A Curious Year, by Jack Shields, please visit the contact page.

*If you are buying from outside the US, change the Amazon URL to your home country.
It is also likely available at other online bookstores in your country. 

Excerpts

Chapter 1. Cause and Introduction

My desire to write didn’t stem from a need to share my pain with others or to seek fame and wealth. You don’t become a writer to get rich. You do it because you have to. I needed to write because somewhere along the way it became my process, the way in which I tasted and engaged with the world. I needed to write because I sensed that in the midst of this creative process there was something inside of me waiting to be born. It was only through this exploration that I believed I could uncover the source of what I had come to know as my “soul ache.”

I sensed that if I could get to the source of this ache, I could uncover a truth central to my life. Even more than a sense, there was a voice. Occasionally, in moments of stillness, it whispered to me, If you can just pass through this and stop running from it, you will know freedom. Unfortunately, those little whispers are easy to ignore, especially if the voice in your head is always yelling...

As my thirty-sixth birthday drew near, I was scared—scared that the loneliness, this soul ache, was going to consume me. Although I knew not the source of the loneliness, and although at times I thought I had outrun it, I was still aware of its presence. I sensed that it lingered just beyond the “veil.” (Page 32-33)

Chapter 9. The Indian Night

With not much more to do around the ashram than think, write, and ponder JD’s teachings, I set out to tune my inner guitar. I opened myself up to the stillness and silence that the ashram afforded me. With every passing day, I came to a greater understanding of my relationship to energy and reality. I realized that I was an observer who was in fact not separate from all living things but rather an extension of a greater consciousness that was responsive to my thoughts, intentions, and energy. And it wasn’t just hyperbole; my gratitude-intention journal was empirical proof.

It would have been easy to dismiss these creations as coincidence, but the more attention I paid to my inner world, the more I believed I was feeding it energy. I observed my thoughts as creations, and as I did, the more my subjective reality shaped my objective experiences. The more I tuned into this universal energy, the more I let it flow through me unobstructed, the more I believed it was making me magnetic. This function of the magnetism was to attract the experiences I wanted to create. (page 155 - 156)

Epilogue: Sunrise

There was power in this realization and even more power in its acceptance. Pain existed for healing, and healing existed for wholeness, just as the darkness existed to show us the light. It was a delivery mechanism for the evolution of consciousness, that thing we can’t grasp or touch but can only name. Consciousness—the executive control system of the mind. Consciousness—the mechanism that allows self to reflect upon self. Consciousness—the field of information we are all connected to. (page 389)

Chapter 25. A Funeral, Family, and a Fix

Like a well-trained guerilla army, we took action. I disabled their Christmas music, replaced it with my own, and turned it up. One sister stoked the fire and the other distracted the kids. My brother went straight to the bar and started mixing cocktails. In a matter of moments, we had disarmed the enemy and replaced the room’s sentimentality with our own propaganda love machine. And then, like the old days in my parents’ living room after a dinner party, we pushed the furniture to the perimeter and created a dance floor.

We danced all night to the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra, the Grateful Dead and Ella Fitzgerald, the Talking Heads and Elton John. We spilled drinks and laughed so hard they came out of our noses. We danced the kids, twirling them around as if they were Ginger Rogers in the arms of Fred Astaire, and then we held them close like the babies they once were. The collective energy of our best selves elevated the room.

Late in the evening, I took a step back and soaked in the moment. With a full heart, I observed the scene I had imagined and hoped for since I discovered I was unexpectedly heading home for the holidays. Finally, the junkie scored his fix. Rocket mannnnnnnnn…And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time… (Page 282-283)

Chapter 14. Wanted: Assistant to the (International) School Photographer

Light fractured into fractals and geometric shapes. A web of dendrite-like filaments looking like neural pathways spread about the city and into infinity. Upon these pathways traveled telepathic information that I could tap into. I felt connected to everyone and everything…

I was no longer temporal but timeless and dimensional. My body was just a structure that housed my consciousness, a consciousness that was connected to a field of information, to which everyone and everything was connected. If only people knew the truth, kept ringing through my mind.

I looked down at the macadam beneath my feet and watched as it turned into a petri dish. It was not solid but in perpetual motion. Life at the atomic level is the movement of energy, and we are either conduits or impediments of that energy. (Page 161 - 162)

Chapter 16. The Journey of a Thousand Kilometers

As with most adolescents, at seventeen I was bored and ready for the next phase of my life—to have grownup experiences, to love, to create, to fuck, to suffer, to lose, to travel, to conquer, to experience all things I needed to experience in order to express this expanding feeling inside of me. It was not a knowing in words but something I felt deep in my soul. Even at that age I had no choice but to express myself in words and follow them where they led me, despite the fact that it would be years before I felt comfortable enough to call myself an artist or own the title of “writer.” That kid was hungry, though. He was hungry, hopeful, and believed in his dream. But then things got messy. What happened to that seventeen-year-old kid? (page 182)

Chapter 31. Curfews and the Sagada Social Club

Looking back through time from my current vantage, I was humbled how grace, good fortune, time, and dreams delivered me that afternoon to the roof of a jeepney in the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines. The music served as one of many quantum strings that connected the past to the present moment. The experience I was in the middle of living was everything the younger version of me had dreamed of—adventure, freedom, joy, independence, and expansion. These feelings would now live in my biology, and under the right conditions, would give birth to future stories…

With an expanded heart, in the rapturous joy of the moment, it dawned on me that the mystery was not only consuming me but also initiating me. In surrendering my old life to the possibility of a new one, if for no other reason than there was no going back, my soul had no choice but to open to the possibilities before me. Every time I surrendered what no longer served me, I molted another layer of the sadness and fear that had consumed my thoughts and run my life for so long. In the absence of sadness and fear, love consumed me… (page 342 -343)

Chapter 26. A Less Than Joyful Reunion

Relationships. Good grief, as Charlie Brown would say. One day you’re cruising along, having a good time, going out with your friends in packs like wild dogs and fooling around with whoever will have you. It’s good fun and you think nothing of it because you’ve got time and youth on your side.

The next thing you know, you wake up and you’re in your mid-thirties and more than half of your friends are married. It’s shit-or-get-off-the-pot time. Not only are you learning to navigate the complexities of relationships, but you’re also up against commanding biological clocks while trying to figure out who you are, who you’re becoming, and ultimately who you want to be. Would that part of me ever find peace? (page 286)

*If you are buying from outside the US, change the Amazon URL to your home country.
It is also likely available at other online bookstores in your country.