The genre of self-help books has exploded in recent years. I myself have read a ton of them – & for sure, there are plenty I am happy to give a big “thumb's up.”
I’m sure there are people who scoff at this phenomenon; who wonder how much good all these books are doing. After all, the world still seems to be in a pretty fearsome mess, doesn’t it? We seem to be perched like lemmings on the edge of a cliff. (Hmm. Not so much on the edge as throwing ourselves off it…)
But I see the phenomenon as very healthy – & very poignant. Clearly, many of us realize we’re all mixed up. That things aren’t working – in the world, & in our own lives.
We are uneasy – dissatisfied – unhappy. We know there has to be something more.
We come to our personal crises through a variety of doorways. We get sick – or get fired – or our partner/spouse dumps us – or maybe we get tired of feeling as though we’re only half-alive.
I came through the door of environmental activism – & then the unexpected end of a 20-year marriage that was a very good one for 17 of those years.
Environmental activism did/has done/continues to do a lot for me. For one not-so-small thing, it led me to be re-acquainted with the beauty of our world – this precious Earth.
And in reading about the environmental crisis – reading books by big thinkers like Thomas Berry & others, I came to understand that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. It’s not really about filling the oceans with garbage & toxic waste, & the air with pollution & the earth itself with garbage & poisons – although that’s what we’ve done & continue on our merry way to do.
It’s about what it is in us that causes us to do these things – allows us to carry on this way.
Ever since I was about 14 years old, I’ve felt the need to try & “help” the world, & to be a part of something bigger than myself; for sure, environmental activism helps me do that.
Self-help books have helped me understand my own psychology, my own neuroses & personal pitfalls (& their likely origins) – & by extension, those of my fellow human beings.
So, at the drop of a hat, I can rhyme off the names of, oh, 20 or 30 self-help books I’ve found very, very useful.
Each of them has given me, at the very least, one significant nugget of insight & understanding. Each of the writers has helped shine an illuminating shaft of light into my own behaviour/soul & more generally, human behaviour/the human soul.
So I don’t take the proliferation of self-help books lightly at all – & since reading books has been just about my salvation in this life, I’ll probably keep right on reading & recommending books that I think can really help others.
With one caveat.
I personally believe that until we devote ourselves/our lives to forces much more powerful than our own – a picture that is very much bigger than our own little lives & our immediate circle of acquaintances/loved ones – all the self-help books in the world cannot “save” us.
I’m not going to try to tell anyone else what that “big picture” consists of – how you can break into it – nor will I suggest that everybody ought to become an environmental activist (although that would surely be grand!)
I know quite well that we all have to figure out quite a lot for ourselves in this life. There doesn’t seem to be any way around that, although reading excellent books can certainly be a great un-locker of our soul’s secrets & desires & repressed emotions.
I can say that a greater appreciation of Nature can take each one of us a very long way. A 20-minute (or longer!) daily walk can do wonders. (In my view, this is best done alone, & with nothing inserted into one’s ears.) Even cities have parks & trees, sky & clouds, birds & other critters one can learn to appreciate & feel cheered by.
When we learn to really appreciate Nature/the Earth, we begin to “get” that it’s a gift, & a treasure, & a privilege to be living on such a stunning, orbiting ball of beauty & abundance – living always in the radiance of the sun that is, count ‘em, 93 million miles away – & without which we couldn’t function for five minutes!
This can crack us open to the realization that, no matter how many personal neuroses & foibles & problems we may have, we are all part of something very vast indeed.
And then the self-help books can send us on a path of “spiritual” growth that will bring it home to us that, when we help the world, we are helping ourselves, & when we make the effort to grow spiritually & help ourselves, we are simultaneously also helping the world.
And as Kurt Vonnegut might have us say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
p.s. In addition to reading lots of books & ruminating plenty, I’ve been to counsellors on several occasions, & have also taken advantage of some very worthwhile workshops. You can read about these in the blog item ‘3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth’ & the ‘Landmark Experience’ essay.
There are also two lists of recommended reading found under the ‘Recommended’ tab of the blog. Neither is a full listing of all the really good books I’ve read; by now, there are many I’ve read & forgotten about – but there is plenty of good stuff there…