More fun than a temple of monkeys

Michael Attie

Zen and the art of underwear merchandizing: Michael Attie believes spirituality is nothing to get your knickers in a twist over.

“I can’t read any books on meditation; they’re all in the head,” insists Michael Attie, whose alter egos include the Lingerie Monk and the Squeezebox Swami. Attie, a 40-year spiritual practitioner, decided to counter all those cerebral meditation primers with his own light-hearted approach to the subject, Many Ways, Middle Way, No Way: A guide to meditation, spiritual awakening and fun (Neon Buddha Press, 2005).

“I’m not really into religions, I’m into the spirit,” explains Attie, taking a break from his cross-country book tour to talk to Xpress. “My main practice is connecting to people [through] an open mind and fun.”

Towing the panty line

“Some people have the mistaken idea that one should absolutely endeavor to avoid sexual thoughts and fantasies while meditating,” Attie writes in Many Ways. “Actually, a few sexual fantasies can be very helpful in deepening one’s practice.”

With this idea in mind, Attie developed the Lingerie Zen Sect, a group that held its meditation sessions in a room above Playmates of Hollywood, a lingerie store the author owned for many years.

Actually, Attie never set out to be a panty salesman. In the ’60s, he traveled to India and Japan, where he studied Hinduism and Buddhism. But when the author’s father retired from the family business, he passed down the world’s largest lingerie store to his son. To Attie, who sides with the “mixers, innovators and anarchists” rather than spiritual purists, the prospect of teaching meditation while selling unmentionables was an intriguing challenge.

“Before [meditation] sessions, all meditators [got] a fifteen percent discount [in the store],” he writes.

“In the Lingerie Zen Sect, precautions were made to avoid the tantric misfire,” the author clarifies. “You go to the store and you shop and you get aroused and then, instead of going for the tantric [sex], you go upstairs and meditate.”

In his book, he acknowledges the disturbing trend of abuse by spiritual teachers, but asserts, “By and large the tantric power of sex has been largely ignored, or marginalized, until the advent of the Lingerie Movement.”

Dharma bums

But, if you stop by Attie’s reading at Malaprop’s this week, don’t expect much talk about sex scandals or panties as a path toward inner peace. “That’s last year’s news for me,” he declares. “I’d rather do the Squeezebox Swami show.”

The Lingerie Monk sold Playmates of Hollywood a decade ago. These days, he’s pursuing his other passion: performing rollicking accordion tunes and teaching audiences how to have a good time.

“I don’t think [the idea of fun in spiritual practice] is so new,” he notes. “When you’re really seasoned, that’s what happens. All the teachers who inspired me were comedians.”

One of Attie’s teachers in the 1960s, Neem Karoli Baba (said to be an incarnation of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman), was renowned for being mischievous. The guru came into prominence when his American disciple, Ram Dass, immortalized him in Be Here Now.

“In my short three weeks with [Neem Karoli Baba],” Attie writes, “he mostly laughed, played, made jokes and threw fruit at people.”

Many Ways is written in a similar spirit. Instead of rules, the book tells stories and suggests a carte blanche approach toward dharma (spiritual law).

“Everyone has their own opinion and it’s all good,” the writer muses. “If you stay with one teacher for a long time, there are so many benefits. But if you have a broad experience, you get hurt less. A lot of the motivation for writing this book was [to encourage readers to] start their own religion and make their own ceremonies.”

Of his own practice, he writes, “I took all the furniture out of my living room and made it the Don’t Worry Zendo … since Neem Karoli Baba is the person who told me to teach Dharma … it is not a Zendo at all — it is actually a Hanuman temple. This may technically make me a Hindu and not a Buddhist. I don’t know and care even less.”

Michael Attie performs and reads at Malaprop’s on Thursday, Nov. 9. 7 p.m. Free. 254-6734.

To tingle the spine

As if Bram Stoker’s made-for-Hollywood Dracula wasn’t creepy enough, author Elizabeth Kostova upped the ante with her debut novel. The Historian, at more than 600 pages, probes the legend of 15th-century Romanian prince Vlad the Impaler, whose infamy begat the legendary bloodsucking count we all know and fear.

A decade in the making, the impetus for Kostova’s book was rooted in a simple memory: While hiking in Western North Carolina with her Romanian-born husband, the author recalled her father’s stories of Dracula and immediately sat down — right there on the trail — to jot some notes.

The tale that unfolded is one of a motherless American girl who, while living in Europe, finds a medieval package of letters addressed — spine-tinglingly — to “My dear and unfortunate successor.” This sets the heroine on a quest to discover her birthright and link the truth-is-creepier-than-fiction Vlad the Impaler to the 20th-century Dracula.

For readers who missed the book in its first release, it’s just come out in paperback.

Elizabeth Kostova appears at Malaprop’s on Sunday, Nov. 12. 2 p.m. Free. 254-6734.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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