Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Something More Excavating Your Authentic Self , by Sarah Ban Breathnach: Book Review


Ever get one of those self improvement books and think to yourself—gosh, I'll never read that!  Rather than ignoring the idea of possibly getting some insight and instruction on how you may live your life more fully, try wading into the self improvement genre slowly, with books on tape. Listen to the CD while doing something you really enjoy.  It may surprise you that a self improvement book can actually heighten the practice of your activity.

I first listened to Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self on audio CD while hiking my favorite trail. I enjoy nature and hiking is something that can bring out the Henry David Thoreau in even the most cynical.

I shared my favorite trail with gutsy wild turkeys, skittish deer and even a pack of wolf pups bounded toward me one day. As the pups scurried back into the scrub, I ached to pick up the smallest one. She tried to hide herself in a culvert, the other pups leaving her behind. I saw myself in that pup, hiding herself—in full-on survival mode, and scared. 

While I identified with that pup, I began to appreciate that my nature walk was connecting me to myself. And listening to Something More, at that particular moment, encouraged me to explore my thoughts. Sarah’s words elevated the nature walk into a deep contemplation: I realized what trouble my thinking had gotten into; apparently, quite a bit of trouble. Yet, despite my negative mental meanderings, Sarah’s suggestions, inspiring stories and transformative insights filled me with faith and grace.

When my mind took a turn, I followed it up the tree-lined hill: “What? I didn't have to be a drone the rest of my life? I could reinvent my scratch-and-dent self? Failure is a good thing because it forces me to find out my ‘authentic needs and passionate yearnings?’ I can create a life I love? Yes, I must."

I loved the flow of the abridged CD version of the book. I like the book too, although, I did not do most of the assignments Sarah recommends. Assignments may be the very things that turn people off from self improvement books because they seem too much like work.  But, this book is meant to be a companion that you take out and use on a regular basis, like a trusted friend, without judgment; only suggestions to be taken or not. The assignments become less like work and more like that walk in the woods—an enjoyable experience to savor. 

Sarah’s book builds on a series of quotes from writers, philosophers, mothers, scientists, and bon vivants. Sarah underscores the reflective messages delivered through the quotes by including stories about her own life and the lives of the famous and infamous in order to lead us to become our own hero. Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self includes “field work” to help us get in tune to the process. This is not homework—it is your walk in the woods!

“The soul of Something More is …joy.” (p. 9-10) Sarah defines joy as the absence of fear. Have you ever cried out in the middle of the night with screams so loud that they break through sleep and startle you awake (and your partner, too?) Damn nightmares.

I experience these night frights. The next day, however, I write, cook, eat, pray, love, cater, fetch, clean, workout, dance, sing and do whatever is necessary to move forward—and get a running start over fear. That is, I live my life with as much oomph as I can muster.

Sarah's book offers suggestions to quiet your nightmares, although she does not phrase it that way

For example, Sarah asks you to go beyond the infirmities of life and soiled relationships. She wants you to become an archeologist, searching for your unique soul’s purpose. That is where the field work comes in.

While engaging in your “field work,” you discover that, “Something More is repose of the soul. Something More is self-worth.” (p.323.) Sarah admonishes, do not ever betray yourself again. Honor your passions and pursue them unabashedly. 

“We’ve ...lived seven past lives,” Sarah observes, “lives in which we have been: starting over, surviving, settling, stumbling, shattered, sensing, and searching for Something More.” (p. 9) These past lives that Sarah describes serve as the chapters in her book.

Sarah tags the process of self-evaluation your “wilderness” experience. No wonder I love walks in the woods so much. Bring on that field work!

Sarah shares an example of how one woman enters her “wilderness” experience, profoundly changing the course of her work and her life. The woman went from living the” proper life,” and then takes a ski trip. She ends up hanging from the edge of a cliff, nearly falling to her death. While hanging out there, she has nothing to do but wait for rescue so she takes stock of her life.

I get the message: take stock of your life ASAP and make the changes necessary to live the life you were born to live, with passion, or you will end up hanging off a cliff, embarrassed by the silliness of it all.

Start you life now, Sarah tell us.  Even if you start small, although, you must start with what turns you on and lights you up. And that may change over the course of a few decades, so honor the process and get to it. 

Sarah prophesizes that otherwise, if you do not heed the callings of your soul, your life will suck. On her deathbed, Sarah wants to be able to say “I had just the right amount of time in my earthling-hood. Thank you. See you soon…”
Sarah notes that it would be a travesty to say on one’s deathbed, “I wish I had more time.”  

I could not agree more. It’s right up there with Thoreau who said: “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“'Ecstasy is what everyone craves—not love or sex, but a hot-blooded, soaring intensity, in which being alive is a joy and a thrill...That enravishment doesn't give meaning to life, and yet without it life seems meaningless.'” (p.194-195)

With all that life has to offer, it nevertheless can be daunting, difficult, and painfully sad. All the more reason I truly seek to discover the “Something More” that Sarah says we, especially woman, require in order to discover and nurture our authentic selves. As Sarah points out: “first the gesture, then the grace.” (p. 7)

Sometimes, my gesture feels like working out a puzzle, but some of the pieces have fallen on the floor and the dog chewed them up, and later regurgitated them at my feet.

Here’s the deal:  we all go through these stages in life and either come out the other side wiser and more compassionate, or not. I’d rather not be in the company of one who does not—they’re a bore and an energy drain. So, suck it up and do the work that gets you back to you, and you’ll start to recognize the wonderful, creative and fun-loving child you used to be—and still are!

Let us bestow meaning to our lives. Sarah’s book opens up a potent portal: Go through!


[Author’s note:  Thanks to my sister, Kay, for helping me to pull this piece together!]

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