Written by Lauryn Smith
Long time, no write. I could apologize for the absence. I could give you a list of excuses as to why I have been away. Or, I could just jump right back in and review something of the self-help genre. Yeah, I will do that last one.
First, a disclaimer. I have always found self-help books to be a little… lame. But I am currently coming down from a workaholic high, a period of doubt, exhaustion, impatience, grumpiness, discouragement and anxiety. Most people have experienced these negative emotions, and I often wrangle with the latter, which I reluctantly attribute to my unyielding perfectionism. So, in a proactive effort, I have determined to give a book on personal development a go. The contender is “Conscious Living: Finding Joy in the Real World” by Gay Hendricks, selected for both its great reviews and the enticing promise of its title proclaims. The book is somewhat remarkable, with a few novel insights on life and truth.
The author is considered a pioneer in the field of psychology because he advocates for living life by design and for educating via nontraditional means. He believes that therapy, for instance, should focus less on the past and more on the present and future. In “Conscious Living,” he coaches readers on how to use the powers of love, intention and creation, describing methods that have been successful for patients in his professional practice. He relies on the principles of Taoism and Stoicism to support his goal of helping others conquer fear and live with purpose, explicating five fundamental lessons, such as knowing one’s priorities and fully participating in life.
Hendricks exhibits an unabashed hippie-esque spirituality, a focus on oneness with the universe, which at first is a bit uncomfortable. As the book progresses, though, it becomes clear that he genuinely accepts the power of the cosmos, and he even succeeds in making the idea of harnessing such power enticing. His honesty and openness help allure readers in this regard. That said, the “TMI” adage often comes to mind while reading this book, such as when Hendricks describes his past sexual desires while illustrating the type of communication he has with his current wife.
Hendricks is clearly confident that his methods work, essentially asserting that if they do not, it is the fault of the people using them, people who probably are not being genuinely open to change. I am not sure I wholly agree with this assertion. Take, for instance, one of the more outrageous methods Hendricks iterates. In brief, he claims that it is possible to channel energy within your body and use that energy to heal yourself. Say you have a headache, for example. According to Hendricks, you can channel energy within your fingers, place your fingers on your temples, and voila! No more headache. Perhaps my biggest issue here and with some of the other techniques that Hendricks purports is that his evidence relies largely on his personal experiences and those of his patients. Although he seems trustworthy on the whole, I do not find all of his bold claims entirely believable.
There are also a handful of questionable blanket statements, such as aversion to roles, routines and rules, which apparently hinder one’s best life. He says, “Those moments mount up quickly to become a life of comfortable numbness or sputtering indignation, ending with a snore or a fizzle.” But is that always the case? I quite enjoy the luxury of knowing that there will be a cup of coffee with vanilla-flavored almond milk creamer to lure me into the day each morning. Is that so wrong? Routine, wonder and exploration do not need to be mutually exclusive.
On the other hand, some facets of the book are knowable only subconsciously, until they are brought forth more tangibly, at which point they become conscious knowledge (pun?). For instance, Hendricks explicates the nuances of self-esteem, as well as the use of personas, their benefits and detriments at various points in time and how they can keep us from truly knowing ourselves, which, as the book demonstrates, impedes a fulfilling, conscious life. The writing is very accessible, so the book is a quick read. Every now and then there are nuggets of wisdom worth noting (embrace all that is real in every moment, know yourself well enough that outside forces do not become too powerful, be aware of the obstacles that are created by defensiveness).
Some sections of the book might be irrelevant to a good portion of readers, especially in the second half, but those aside, there is something to be gained if read with a grain of salt. Still, I have found some memoirs to be just as enlightening, plus more relatable. (Take Elizabeth Gilbert’s now-cliché “Eat, Pray, Love,” or even Sara Bareilles’s “Sounds Like Me.”) I guess I did not necessarily love this foray into a self-help book, but I am at least more inclined to look into Stoicism and Taoism more deeply. Perhaps the sweet ingredients of this book will prove to be more powerful than the cake.
Well, we have reached the end. Now that the summer is mine for the taking, I will heed a piece of Hendricks’ advice: “If you cannot control it, the only sane alternative is to relax into pure acceptance of it.” As Hendricks illustrates, my problems are my own creation, and life can be designed differently. No matter what, Diary, I will see you again soon.
Title: Conscious Living: Finding Joy in the Real World
Author: Gay Hendricks
Publisher (reprint edition): Harper
Publication date (reprint edition): April 21, 2009
Page count: 278
List price: $14.99
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