Book Review: Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books, whether it comes to the personal, professional, romantic, and so on. I’ve read my share of self-help books in my life time and I’ve acquired quite a list of the good, bad, and downright ugly.

I can happily proclaim C. Paul Schroeder’s Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community belongs in the good category.

In Practice Makes Purpose, Schroeder takes six ancient ideas and updates for our modern age, which let’s face it, my readers, is often confusing, frightening and downright overwhelming.

What are the six practices you ask? Quite simply they break down to the following:

  1. Compassionate Seeing
  2. Heartfelt Listening
  3. Intentional Welcoming
  4. Joyful Sharing
  5. Grateful Receiving
  6. Cooperative Building

Each of these six spiritual practices starts with a singular issue and ends with an actual practice. Between these two points includes steps Schroeder lays out at as the fix, the deep dive, the mantra, and the challenge, which are fully described in all six of these practices.

For instance, in compassionate seeing, Schroeder asks the reader to view ourselves and others with complete and unconditional acceptance. Now, this does not mean you condone someone’s behavior. Some people are just awful but get the “story behind the story” to find out why they are awful before you completely write them off. Compassionate seeing helps us connect with others and realize how we are all interconnected in various ways. Without compassionate seeing we are in danger of unraveling, which depletes us as individuals and depletes our communities.

As Practice Makes Purpose goes through all its parts, Schroeder describes in full the barriers we may face as well as the triumphs we can achieve. He does this with a clear and concise writing style that is practical, empathetic and audience-friendly. Once a Greek Orthodox Priest, Schroeder is wise enough to realize not every reader is a Christian, so he refrains from strict religious terms that may be off-putting. Nor is this book some odd bit of new age fluff that may turn off readers of more traditional religious orders.

While reading Practice Makes Purpose, I was struck how practical and easy I could use this advice in my own life when dealing with challenging people and predicaments. His advice is healthy in it respects our need to be open to others (his advice when it comes to heartfelt listening, “Tell me more” appeals to the writer in me and I also appreciate how he discusses the boundaries we may need to use in other situations. Yes, be open but don’t get steamrolled by others. I also deserve compassion.

What else do I like Practice Makes Purpose? This book is less than two hundred pages. It can be read in day during a binge read. It can be read piecemeal if you are dealing with a situation or person that requires reflection on only one or two of the six practices. You can easily carry this book in a handbag or knapsack, and its practices can be interwoven in one’s home and workplace. I would love to see all six practices used in our children’s schooling (especially in the wake of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida).

As for my life? I am now using Practice Makes Purpose when it comes to my self-care, especially when it comes to my mental health issues. I recently took up meditation and six one-sentence mantras Schroeder provide within this book is now part of my meditation practice.

At this point, Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community are thee right words, in the right book, at the right time.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

reasons-to-stay-aliveAfter reading Melissa Broder’s TMI memoir, So Sad Today, I really wasn’t up to reading another memoir, especially one dealing with the thorny topic of depression and other mental illnesses. Then I came across British author Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive while browsing the stacks at my local library. I read the book jacket and decided to check Haig’s book out…

…and I’m glad I did. Reasons to Stay Alive might be one of the most important books I have ever read on the issue of depression and mental illness, and one I am happy to share with my readers.

On the surface, Haig has a pretty ideal life. His parents are kind, compassionate and loving. His girlfriend (now wife) Andrea sounds like a delightful woman, one who chose to stick by Haig through even his darkest moments of  mental terror. Haig is educated, well-traveled, good-looking and a successful author. What does he have to be depressed about?

Well, often depression has no reason to exist; it just does. And sometimes there are reasons why people are depressed, which is something Haig also describes in Reasons to Stay Alive. But Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s story and it is painful to read at times. I often had to put the book down because at times I related to Haig way too much and have the dried up tears to prove it, and because I felt so much empathy for his struggles.

For Haig, depression was just something that was thrust upon him, almost like being an innocent victim of a violent crime. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why he felt the way he did. Even everyday activities from getting out of bed to doing basic ever day tasks were too much to handle. For a moment, Haig considered committing suicide while vacationing in Ibiza.

I’m just glad he never took that final step.

From these suicidal thoughts to writing Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig chronicles his struggles with depression with clarity that both chills and helps the reader gain insight on the cruelty of depression and how it not only affects the sufferer but those who live with the sufferer.

Haig writes about his anxiety and panic attacks. He is fully honest in how depression affected him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He goes through a whole alphabet of emotions—sadness, rage, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, terror and other assorted less than ideal feelings. But he also writes of the glimmers of hope he gained and he acknowledged his suffering and went on a very difficult journey of recovery. And he does it without self-pity, psychobabble or being a self-absorbed narcissistic curator of TMI.

In Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig fully explains why depression is so misunderstood (even by those who suffer from it). With depression, one’s pain is invisible. You wonder what suffering from depressions says about you. You wonder why you can’t get out of bed and stop crying. You worry tomorrow will be worse than today and beat yourself up for not being like everybody else.

Haig also describes certain aspects that some people with depression suffer from, including fatigue, low-self-esteem, irritability, crying jags, moving and speaking at a slower pace, and inability to experience pleasure.

Haig tells the readers that people with depression are not alone. And he names several notable figures who suffered from depression including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Buzz Aldrin. Creative types also suffer from depression. These people include Halle Berry, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Tennessee Williams. Even the ever bubbly ray of sunshine, Dolly Parton, has issues with depression!

However, Haig leaves us hopeful, sharing both his journey and the journey of others. Reasons to Stay Alive, which include everything from kissing (yes, to lots and lots of kissing) and reading books (yes, to lots and lots of books). Ultimately, he shares with us 40 pieces how to not only live but thrive while dealing with depression and also offers names of books that may help those suffer from depression that can probably be found at your local library, on-line and at your favorite bookstore.

Reasons to Stay Alive is at times hard to read; dealing with my own depression is bad enough. But I am eternally grateful for Matt Haig and his valuable book. Reasons to Stay Alive should be read not just by those suffering from depression, but those who love someone with depression. Actually, Reasons to Stay Alive should be read by everyone!

 

Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

so-sad-today

I initially picked up Melissa Broder’s book So Sad Today because like me, Ms.  Broder suffers from depression, and I’m always interested in how other people with depression deal with this very misunderstood ailment. Even further, Roxane “Bad Feminist” Gay gave So Sad Today a very positive review. I value Gay’s judgment so I started this book with a great deal of enthusiasm.

And this enthusiasm quickly evaporated from the moment I read the first chapter of So Sad Today, “How to Never Be Enough,” in which New York-based Broder, went into great length her mother’s difficulty in breastfeeding Broder to Broder’s fondness of eating her boogers.

And from there So Sad Today became a den of shock and vulgarity detailing every stomach-turning aspects of Broder’s life (like her mad fetish for vomit) from her childhood turmoil to her very open marriage, and then some. Clearly other people’s struggles with depression are vastly different than mine and everybody has their freaky-deaky kinks and quirks. I’m not completely without empathy and I’m certainly not close-minded when it comes to other people’s idiosyncrasies. We all have them…

Furthermore, I’m now questioning Gay’s particular taste in literature.

But let us proceed further into the madcap adventures of Melissa…

In another chapter, named “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There”-or as I like to call it “Sexting for Crummies,” Broder shares sexually-graphic texts between herself and a total stranger that are so horrific my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. I am no prude; I have read my share of erotica and once wrote an article about sex toys. But these sexts had all the erotic lure of a Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich gang bang. Sorry, but I just have to share a few of sexts between Broder and this up-standing feller:

Him: “I want to fuck you in an air duct, flattened out with our whole bodies touching, at first slow and careful, then really hard until I come in you and the bottom of the duct falls out and we into a boardroom meeting at Walmart, like into a bucket of fondue.”

Broder later sexts to this charming lad: “I want u to take a picture of yr cum on the screenshot of ‘Melissa Broder likes this’ and send it to me, and I want it signed by the cummer.”

Hmm, who says romance is dead?

But wait! There’s more! In chapter, Broder tells you about every dimension of her lady parts, including one labia is slightly longer than the other. Hmm, you don’t say? After reading this I do believe I could pick out Melissa’s yoni out of a line up (hmm, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write).

Throughout the book Melissa waxes on about eating disorders, suffering from anxiety, musings on gender differences like men want sex and women want love, more bodily function gross-outs and a very graphic exchange about getting a “vaginal massage” from an older man. Of her bat mitzvah, Broder muses, “I had this weird intuition that if I could just make it to my Bat Mitzvah I could both prevent the Holocaust from happening again and also get all my friends back.”

Gee, during my first communion I mused, “I wish I could dip this bland Body of Christ into some guacamole and end the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

But just as I was getting ready to toss this book, Broder gets very real and touched me as a reader that made me feel tender towards her, not tetchy. In the chapter, “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness,” Broder discusses her open marriage with her husband (who she refers to as Ron Jeremy). In their open marriage, Broder and Mr. Ron Jeremy agree they may have sex with other partners as long as they remain casual and don’t turn these encounters into full-fledged affairs, and for the most part, an open marriage works for both of them.

And in this chapter, also Broder discusses in heartbreaking detail Mr. Ron Jeremy’s very serious and debilitating disease and how it affects their marriage. Broder’s commitment to her husband is both challenging and proves she is capable of deep caring and compassion. I really wish she would have devoted her memoir on this aspect of her life and her fierce love and commitment to her husband.

Broder is a fairly decent writer and possibly a very nice person in real life. Apparently So Sad Today started out as an anonymous Twitter feed, which later turned into this very book. Broder claims to be very self-conscious, riddled with anxiety and constantly wonders what people think of her, so it’s baffling why she’d be so open to such extremes via her book. But then again, in a world where people get famous by doing a sex tape, opine about the most private moments in their social media and Instagram their butts, I should probably not be surprised Broder probably thought TMI was the quickest way to get published. Sure, more may be less, but in 2016 more is MORE and the fast track to fame and notoriety.

 

Book Review: The Princess Guide to Life by Rosie Blythe

25071062Just like a lot of people, I often feel a bit out of sorts in our mixed-up world. I can’t seem to get it together personally, professionally and romantically. So in these moments of confusion I make the decision to peruse self-help section of my favorite book store. I hope to find a nugget of wisdom to help me improve my lackluster life. But after a while, I fail to be inspired, and my romp in the self-help section turns to self-hate.

Women are constantly getting the message “Girl, You’re Doing it Wrong.” We fail to “act like a lady and think like a man.” We don’t follow the “rules, girl.” And Dr. Laura is not shy of telling us of the ten stupid things we’re doing to mess up our lives. Interestingly enough, dropping the N-word nearly a dozen times while talking to a black caller is not on the demented doctor’s list.

But I digress…

So after leaving the book shop, throwing my dainty hands in disgust, I shout to the heavens, “Is there a book that will truly help me without me ending up a petite ball of self-hate? Am I destined to be an utter failure as a woman?”

Well, thank goodness for Rosie Blythe and the kindness, decency and gentle “you go, girl” spirit she conveys in her book, The Princess Guide to Life. The Princess Guide is like having your best friend in your corner, and Ms. Blythe’s advice is comforting, not shaming and scolding.

Now at first, I bristled a bit at the Princess in the title. I couldn’t help think of spoiled, entitled and vapid divas-in-training who are obsessed with material items and think success should just be handed to them. Or misguided women who think taking selfies of their bottoms and posting them on Instagram should lead to fame and fortune instead of developing a talent or a skill.

And then I thought of Princess Leia from the iconic film series Star Wars, which shaped so many girls of my generation in positive way.

Fortunately, The Princess Guide to Life is more of the latter…and so much more.
The Princess Guide to Life is divided into several chapters on how to navigate our often befuddling and sometimes cruel world—personally, professionally and romantically. At the root at all of this is compassion; but just as all princesses exude compassion towards others, princesses most also show compassion towards themselves. Self-care, The Princess Guide to Life, reminds us is not selfish. It is anything but selfish.

After a brief introduction, Blythe offers sound, and often fun, advice, on how to Princess-up our lives whether it’s our personal fashion style, decorating our homes, nourishing our bodies or keeping our bodies fit. Blythe tells us Princesses follow their own instincts and preferences when honing our own unique style. Don’t blindly follow trends that don’t suit you. Yellow may be the on-trend color of the year, but if you’re more drawn to emerald green, then buy that emerald green clutch bag if that’s what you want.

A princess’s home is her castle, and we should also bring a unique sense of style to our abodes. Princesses make decorating choices that truly make their house a home, and also make visitors feel welcome.

When making food choices, princesses make smart, healthy and nutritious food choices, but an occasional indulgence is every princess’s right. And when it comes to exercise, princesses eschew the fitness regime du jour and choose workouts that suit their budget and bodies. For instance, if God intended me to run marathons, he’s put a TSE cashmere sweater at the finish line. I hate to run, but I could spend over an hour walking along Lake Michigan (fortunately I live only a few blocks away from the shores of Lake Michigan). I also love to dance, and a few years ago I discovered belly dancing. Belly dancing is truly empowering, and all women are beautiful when they belly dance.

Okay, the princess has taken care of her style, body and home. Now it’s time to craft the persona. Princesses never fail to remember their prestige as woman, being a lady is a good thing, the importance of maintaining a veil of mystery in a time of TMI, and how to network without being an obnoxious pain the arse. Princesses also know that one can be both a feminist and fully feminine. In the slightly altered words of the Helen Reddy classic, “I am woman ; hear me roar…now enjoy these sugar mint cookies I just made.”

In the stereotypical idea of a princess, awaits to be saved by Prince Charming. Well, in Blythe’s book a Princess adores a charming prince (or princess if that’s how she rolls) and saves her own damn self. A princess maintains her independence by honing her education, skills and experience via her career and strives to keep her finances fit as a fiddle.

But being a princess isn’t all work and no play. One of the most fun parts of The Princess Guide to Life is how we can use pop culture to further shape our lives. Blythe offers songs, movies, and books to suit every mood. Of course, Blythe’s picks are merely suggestions; they are not set in stone.

Finally, The Princess Guide to Life tells us of one particular day in the life of a princess and other princess-like ideas, advice, and suggestions to help us be the best we can be.

Not once while reading The Princess Guide did I feel like I was an ugly, stupid, lazy loser like most self-help books make me feel. Blythe’s book is fun, joyful and conveys a genuine sense of warmth and empathy for its reader. My copy is now dog-eared and covered in post-it notes so I can easily refer to Blythe’s comforting words of wisdom.

The Princess Guide to Life is the perfect tome and a very welcome addition to my book shelf. From the shores of Lake Michigan all the way to London, England, I’m sending Rosie Blythe royal wave of approval for writing a truly majestic labor of love.

Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolAre conservative books an embarrassment to the publishing industry? Well, considering the publishing industry thought Bristol Palin was worthy of a memoir I’d have to say it’s “Yes!” If I want to know the musings of a dumb, uneducated girl who got knocked up in a tent, I’d go to Wal-Mart or watch “Jerry Springer.”

A prequel to Gone With the Wind focusing on Mammy to be released in October. Hmm, I wonder if it will be a load of shit like the Gone With the Wind sequel Scarlett?

Mark you calendars for April 23rd. Amy Poehler will host World Book Night as honorary chairperson. Books and Amy Poehler? This is my idea of heaven!

Two of Harper Lee’s letters to be auctioned off.

Are self-help books more about self-hurt when it comes to economic strife and income inequality?

As Women’s History Month comes to close, let’s ask ourselves if we’ve read these great books written by women. Wow, I have some catching up to do. My score is embarrassing low. Yikes!

 

 

 

Thinking Man’s Bully by Michael Adelberg

thinking mans bullyMeet Matt Duffy, the protagonist of Michael Adelberg’s novel Thinking Man’s Bully. His son, Jack, is getting into trouble for bullying his peers. Jack has also attempted suicide after Matt thwarted a teen-age romance. Things are not going well for Matt and his wife encourages him to see a psychiatrist. Matt is not crazy about the idea but thinks maybe getting some type of therapy will help him deal with his problematic, troubled son. What doesn’t expect that seeing a shrink will force him to confront the own harsh reality of his past and how it has impacted his somewhat less than ideal child-rearing practices.

Matt’s therapist expects him to do much more than lie on his couch and talk. No, instead, she expects him to email her stories before each session discussing his past and how it may have led to this moment in his life. She also thinks that may also help Matt discuss his feelings and emotions that he might have too much difficulty discussing face-to-face.

Through these emails we learn about some very disturbing, yet relatable details of Matt’s past. Like many teenagers, Matt hung out with his friends, tried to survive high school, navigated the rocky terrain of teenage romance and indulged in the pop culture of the day (personally, as a card carrying member of Generation X-er, I loved the book’s references to the music, movies and television of the 1980s).
But Matt soon realizes that maybe Jack’s bullying didn’t come from nowhere. Maybe the apple didn’t fall to far from the tree. As Matt examines his wayward youth he recognizes that he, too, spent a great deal of his teenage years bullying his classmates. Sure, a lot of it was because he was an immature jerk. But a great deal of Matt’s bullying was due to wanting to impress his BFF nicknamed Dog. Dog was the alpha male to Matt’s more beta male style, a leader who Matt was all too willing to follow.

Some of Matt and Dog’s adolescent shenanigans are just harmless pranks. But far too many of them were cruel and vicious and made my blood both curdle and boil. I can only imagine how their bullying of their peers would be worse in today’s age of social media.

As a teenager, Matt thinks his bullying makes him a cool guy and it makes him put Dog on a pedestal. But Dog has serious issues that go far beyond being the school bully and it isn’t long before these serious issues lead to dire consequences for Dog. And these consequences affect Matt long after the age of the mullet, acid-washed jeans and when MTV actually showed music videos.
Both these emails and Matt’s subsequent conversations with his therapist allow him to make a connection between his teen years and his experiences as a father. The connection isn’t easy, and makes Matt very uncomfortable. But he knows he has to go through this so he can deal with Jack and himself, and possibly grow up as a human being. Will Matt become the perfect father? Well, of course, not. But he is committed to helping his son by helping himself.

Being a victim of bullying myself (and sometimes being a bit of a bully at times), I expected to hate Matt Duffy. And at times I thought to myself, “What an asshole!” But I also saw Matt as a very real, complex and vulnerable person, filled with both good and bad qualities that are a part of the human condition. In the end, I felt empathy for Matt and his issues, both past and present.

Much of my empathy has to do with Adelberg’s rich and vivid writing style. Both of Matt’s emails relating the past and his present are written with such a three-dimensional clarity that had me drawn to Matt’s life. They also often made me think about my own misspent youth and how it is still affecting me today. You don’t always get this from a novel.

Thinking Man’s Bully is one book I had a difficult time putting down and was a bit bummed when it ended. Thank goodness Michael Adelberg is a prolific writer. If Thinking Man’s Bully is any indication of Adelberg’s writing talents, I’m definitely going to read his other books.