Review: The Mind Monster Solution by Hazel Gale

The Mind Monster SolutionThe Mind Monster Solution by Hazel Gale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book of strategies to deal with the roots of self-sabotage and burnout. It packs more value per square inch of page than anything else I have read on the topic. Of course, our reception of a book is also a matter of timing in life, but I have to say this one really spoke to me and finally nailed some nasty old habits. Its ‘modality’ is basically NLP/cognitive hypnotherapy, but the first thing I learned is that the hypnotherapy bit has almost nothing to do with ‘hypnosis’ techniques and everything to do with interrupting the ‘trance’ states in which we tend to carry out self-destructive behaviours. It takes application, but it is encouraging and doable! It’s comprehensive, and there are lots of angles. The author basically throws the kitchen sink and a couple of grand pianos at the issue.

I don’t know anybody who is not in some degree struggling with self-sabotage, but for me, recovering from burnout, terrified of going back to the way I was and treading the same old paths, it was crunch time. I am now recommending The Mind Monster Solution to everyone and referring to it frequently in training the team of support workers I supervise – for themselves and the people we work with.

What was good? All of it. Hazel writes well, and it’s got to be the next best thing to having a series of 1-1 sessions. The book is aimed at empowering the reader with the tools to be their own therapist. I think it saved me a lot of money. There are practical exercises to apply every chapter, and it’s worth doing them. The parts that had me on the edge of my seat were the telling of her own emotional battles as a competitive fighter. I’m not an athlete, but these were tantalizingly relatable to my own experiences of psychological shutdown and gave me huge hope.

The only thing that didn’t quite work, which didn’t matter in any case, is how the reader at the beginning is invited to skip or skim bits to home in on which of the many strategies appeal to them. I don’t think it’s easy to do this because the chapters do build on previous ones and, even though the material is cross-referenced, you’ll end up needing to refer back, so it’s best to read and apply from beginning to end – in my opinion.

I am profoundly grateful that Hazel had the skill, compassion and generosity to write this book. It’s worth ten of the others.

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Review: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Everything is Figureoutable: How One Simple Belief Can Help Us Overcome Any Obstacle and Create Unstoppable SuccessEverything is Figureoutable: How One Simple Belief Can Help Us Overcome Any Obstacle and Create Unstoppable Success by Marie Forleo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are lots of books out there like this, making staggering claims for how they will revolutionize your life. I’d never have opened this if it had not come from a trusted recommender who was convinced enough to send me the book and tell me to read it. It happened to come at the perfect moment when I was bottoming out, and I can honestly say it’s the one that has made a difference. There are no shortcuts to hard work, lots of very hard work, but sometimes we need a little hand-holding as well as some butt-kicking and Marie does it all generously and compassionately. There are exercises to complete and it’s highly recommended to do them. I will have to go back and complete some of them as I got to a point where I was just hungry to read the next chapter. I should re-iterate, “there are no shortcuts in this book”. It might be for you, it might not be for you – but if it is for you, it’s a game-changer! Everything IS figureoutable.

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Review: How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your LifeHow to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a well paced and informative read without the epic amounts of padding that seem to come with so many promising titles. It’s not *strictly* about how to *break up* with your phone entirely. Rather, the author unpacks a strong case and gives very practical steps to take control of the relationship so the smart phone can be a tool and fun without stealing the emotional energy and attention we know we’d rather be giving to things that matter in life.

The first half of the book weaves together anecdotal and research-based evidence for the ways in which smart phones have been detrimental to our quality of life. By open admission of the creators of WMDs (Wireless Mobile Devices), they are designed to be addicting, and the evidence shows that they have us hooked. I like the tone the author takes. She presents the evidence without haranguing the reader, emphasising our choice to take it and do something or move on if it’s not for us. there was no guilt tripping or accusation. I found the exposé of just how insidious and strategic the commodification of our attention has been was starkly disturbing.

The second half of the book was the 30 day plan, which wasn’t the selling point for me as I am some way along the road of detoxing my digital life already and was just looking for something to keep my resolve on track. However, this section is full of practical advice, hints and tips, and encouraging testimonials from people who have reclaimed big chunks of life from the influence of these devices. So I didn’t do the plan, but I gleaned some good reinforcements. I think the plan would be great for those who can stick to these sort of things. Again, the author’s ‘take it or leave it; your choice’ approach was refreshing.

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Review: Why Follow Rules? Trust Your Intuition by James Maberly

Why Follow Rules? Trust your IntuitionWhy Follow Rules? Trust your Intuition by James Maberly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is not bedtime reading; it’s far too stimulating for the mind. It’s not a book I read at a steady pace either, I pretty much tangoed my way through it over a few months: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Sometimes reading with great speed and excitement, at others trying to slowly digest and apply the insights. As a steady consumer of the self-help genre and with long experience in coaching, mentoring and spiritual formation, I can say that this book certainly offers something a little bit different.

As it suggests in the title, the essential message of the the book is a call to trust and follow our intuition. This grand theme crystallises eventually and satisfyingly; however, it also comes with its matrix: a ‘mind dump’ of a lifetime of thinking and creating, researching and relating that the author has done.

Maberly builds his thesis, drawing from his experience in education, wide reading in psychology, friendships, current affairs – all becomes grist to the mill. Of course he has opinions and sometimes speculates, but you can sense ‘intuition’ at work in the early chapters, and that is the whole point. I’d recommend the reader just listen and keep an open mind. The elements do come together, like an impressionist painting.

After Part I, where he introduces what he means by the word ‘intuition’, Part II challenges us with ‘eight critical questions’. These may not seem immediately to be about intuition per se. It’s as if he’s let us peek through the window, and then taken us a circuitous route to the door, during which we learn what we’ll need to know about ourselves when we get into the house.

We begin to discern the small gestures of brush strokes in a generous distribution of quotes and anecdotes. The author uses stories very well, more with the pipe-and-scotch, here’s-my-pet-theory approach than the journalistic precision of, say, Malcolm Gladwell. However, as with Gladwell, there’s an incredible diversity of material hauled into the discussion. He doesn’t shy away from speaking unashamedly of the spiritual aspects of creativity or making certain assumptions about the cosmos. There’s a good measure of synthesis from the well-trodden paths of postmodernism and new-age philosophy, but it’s given with a refreshing naivete. Maberly is like a kid in a sandpit, building something completely awesome with whatever comes to hand.

Then, quite suddenly, I think he goes in for the kill when he comes to distinguish the ‘inituitive self’ from the ego. This was the moment in the book when my mind reached out and latched on for the ride and I felt I was about to see a new horizon. Like the greatest truths, it dips in and out of view like a ship on the swell but it is suggestive of a direction in which we might like to set our compass.

I’m a product of my generation. I’m suspicious of authority and I have no love for rules. Of course, I’m going to pick up a book like this and read it to reinforce what I believe. However, It has become clear to me that the second step of trusting my intuition is something I don’t know so much about. It doesn’t naturally follow. It’s easy enough to throw out the rule book and keep stoking the fires of the ego.

Part III of the book introduces five individuals who have ‘broken the mold’. In Maberly’s terms, they’ve followed an intuitive path and found freedom from the rules. There’s a good cross section here, from famous to relatively unknown in global terms: a millionaire, an artist, a musician, an educationalist. With the exception of Steve Jobs, these individuals are all known personally by the author. He allows them to speak with their own words, then mines their lives to show the outworking of the very things he’s discussed in the book so far.

This is an inspiring section. Each case study brings to light a story of overcoming diverse struggles. I suppose it’s inevitable that each reader will identify more or less with them, but there’s something for everyone here. For me, particularly, it was reading about the cellist and improviser Francois Le Roux that set off a magnificent domino rally in my soul: an invitation to go forward intuitively, drop the trappings and live freely. The insights here alone were worth all the words in the book for me.

To balance my gushy response to this book, I’m not sure if a skeptic would be completely persuaded. If you resist the thesis of the work, you’ll find plenty to argue with, and anyone with an aversion to pop psychology or new-age jargon will need to sit on it in order to finish reading. If that’s you, I think it’s worth trying to hear this on its own terms rather than deciding whether it maps onto your own concept of personality or the soul. I was pretty much in agreement with the ideas before I started reading, and I’ve got pages of journaling and copied-out quotes to keep chewing on.

In some ways I feel the author has made a mistake by disclosing a lifetime’s worth of wisdom that could have been eked out over several books. On the other hand, I’m grateful for such a complete agglomeration to be mined and somehow feel that his continuing journey through intuition and persistent curiosity in the future will unearth still more to share with the world. I very much hope so.

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Reviewing a few recent reads

I’ve started 2015 trying to finish reading a few books that have been on my ‘current’ shelf for too long, and I’ve set myself an ambitious reading list for the year.  I’m also trying to revive the discipline of writing a brief personal response on finishing a book.

While I have still not decided what to say about Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ (which it feels almost sacrilegious to comment on) and Giordano Bruno’s ‘De Umbris Idearum’ (which I probably need to re-read), or how to comment best on a couple of – excellent – books authored by friends of mine, I’ve found something to say about some other recent reads.

The Complete Illustrated Stories of the Brothers GrimmThe Complete Illustrated Stories of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the few things I can conclude from this book is that neither the brothers Grimm nor the good people who narrated these tales to them were sober at the time. That doesn’t negate the work as a pretty extraordinary record of the dark, moralistic, occasionally humorous but rarely original landscape of 19th century German folklore.

Grimm seems to be back in vogue at the moment, in Hollywood, in fresh anthologies of fan fiction, in a counter-movement to ‘disneyfication’. Many of these tales certainly beg to be retold and made relevant in our day. Some of them are downright funny and have great punchlines. A few of them provide novel variations on stories we think we know. Most of them simply recombine the same tropes like cards drawn at random from a deck of superstitions.

In the world of Grimm you must be kind and generous and it’s even more to your credit if you are poor; beautiful people are good and ugly people are evil; you should avoid forests and bodies water, especially if you are a child; you can generally trust elderly people; women are either barren or remarkably fecund; children should respect their parents and compete against their siblings for their affection; parents shouldn’t spoil their children; life is pretty cheap; cunning always prevails against brute force and being a smart arse is admirable. Given how much these values are at odds with those of the 21st century I’m at a loss to explain the revival of interest …

 

Descent of the DoveDescent of the Dove by Charles Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charles Williams’ take on Church History: I found it much harder to understand than his book “Witchcraft”, which feels rather like a companion to this work. Nevertheless, I glimpsed much through the shifting clouds of his prose, and what I saw, I liked. Williams does this in his fiction as in his non-fiction: he sees the whole of reality in a different way and hardly bothers to spell it out for his readers. You sort of go along for the ride and the stuff he says about the passing vistas makes you see them as he does for a few breathless moments that seem to invoke a Jungian sense of ‘oneness’.

On discovering huge gaps in my understanding of classical thought, literature and history, I have only been provoked to read more and explore further. Centrally, though, I’m broadly comforted by Williams’ essential recasting of the bloody, shameful and dark moments in Christian history. His vision enables him to discern God at work in diverse and contradictory movements, frequently pitted against each other. Central to this is his unique theological formulation of ‘co-inherence’ – that process by which humankind incubates the Kingdom of God.

There is a lot of assumed knowledge he expects in his readers, which makes some parts of the text almost inaccessible to those outside the orbit of his intellect (including me). However, a bit of background in Williams’ theology, namely the formulations of co-inherence and the ‘Way of Affirmation’ versus the ‘Negative Way’, will open up much of this to a new reader, as will a prior reading of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’.

I will strive to be equal to a second reading of this book when I come to it, and in the meantime I have copied out a good few of Williams’ perfectly turned phrases to chew on and extended my reading list for the coming year.

 

Chaos: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...)Chaos: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before reading this book, all I knew about chaos theory came from reading Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels back in my teens. After reading it, I don’t feel as if I know a great deal more. Obviously chaos is hard for a non-mathematician to fathom, and this book needs a rudimentary grasp of a lot of related concepts which it only mentions.

It does a good job of surveying the history and development of chaos theory with specific reference to the important pieces of research and the people who published them. All the ways that chaos theory touches into economics, biology, physics, engineering and other fields is given a broad treatment.

As I tried to wrap my mind around the text, it would have been helpful to have some diagrams – it’s a ‘graphic’ guide after all. But the illustrations were abstract and pretty unhelpful. They consisted mostly of collage-style cartoons of people with romano cabbages instead of hair, interacting with scribbly representations of strange-attractor curves and a model chart of fish population growth. I can see how the gradual incorporation of different elements in the collages reflected the addition of new concepts as the book progressed, but they didn’t really shed new light on the topic. It feels like a missed opportunity to clarify things with good graphic material. ‘Strange attractors’ seem to be really important to the whole thing, but I felt that they were glossed in the early sections and still don’t quite get it.

However, I managed to grasp the stuff on fractals, time, turbulence, markets and there were a few moments when the penny dropped in spite of the brevity of the text and the obscurity of the illustrations. I have also found my awareness of chaos has expanded and I’m more likely to spot it at work and factor it into the way I see the world around me – this is a good thing. I have another book in the series – on fractals specifically – to read next, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

A Friend in Every City - One Global Family - A Networking Vision for the Twenty First CenturyA Friend in Every City – One Global Family – A Networking Vision for the Twenty First Century by Penny Power

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although it was published in 2006, and social and online business networking has moved on very rapidly since then, there are still many useful parts in this book. Plenty of it’s predictions have come true and the overall vision of a global family is still working itself out.

I read it partly as an interesting documentary on the state of social networks back in the days when they were less populated, and partly as a handy guide to the practicalities of networking. Advice on setting up profiles, branding, developing an open and generous attitude (rather than only selling) and the bits on team and personality profiling were all good to chew on.

Lots of case studies and stories keep the interest going, but it has dated quite a lot in the last 7 years.

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Read my more in-depth review of Richard Crompton’s ‘Hells Gate’ over at Orion Fiction’s Murder Room blog.

 

Review: Witchcraft by Charles Williams

WitchcraftWitchcraft by Charles Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is, as it promises to be, an un-sensationalising account of the history of witchcraft from Roman times until the end of the Salem Witch trials in the late 1600s.

I read it in the hope of unwrapping something more of the mystery of Charles Williams, the man himself, but quickly became drawn into the drama as he tells it, particluarly, through historical documentary evidence from trials.

Williams handles the material carefully. It is almost impossible to disentangle fact from fiction in this particular aspect of history, where hysteria and confession under torture were commonplace. He nevertheless outlines atrocities on both sides of the conflict between witchcraft and the church and secular authorities throughout the ages and makes it clear that he senses evil at work in both the prosecutors and the prosecuted. He doesn’t enter his opinion into the debate on whether witchcraft is material or illusory, but proponents of both views come under his scrutiny.

Surprisingly and unfashionably, the Spanish Inquisition comes out in a more favourable light when compared to other Inquisitions across Europe at the time, and King James I is commended for his intelligent handling of the issue in England. The medievals and the philosophical movement of the 1600s also seem to embody something closer to Williams own sympathies, while he draws the centuries in between as a full-scale war, a morass of perversion and confusion, touching every level of society and the church and fuelled by an unhealthy obsession with the Devil and sin. Ultimately, in Williams’ reckoning, it was the skeptics who saved Europe from insanity.

I did not obtain from this book much illumination to apply to the growing interest in Wiccan practice in our own times: Williams is talking about something quite different when he speaks of witchcraft. However, it speaks pertinently to the handling of our society’s spectres – real or imagined – in which a spark of truth ignites a profane fire that quickly gets a life of its own. Proponents of the “war on terror”, for instance, would do well to heed its lessons.

As far as the mystery of the author goes, there are precious few hints about his own spirituality, although a brief mention of the Zohar provides recognisable elements that are also found in his novels.

Ultimately, I was surprised not to find more of his penetrating vision of underlying spiritual realities in his description of the conflict. But I’m coming to realise that this is Williams to the core: the historical plane, to which he limits his analysis, incarnates and reflects all others such that there is virtually no need to be initiated into mysteries other than the open secret of Love.

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Review: Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

Descent into HellDescent into Hell by Charles Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the back cover of this book, the Saturday Review states, “Reading Charles Williams is an unforgettable experience.” Its true. Coming away from one of his novels, the world always seems intensified, as mediated through his vision. He gives me a taste of reality that rings true and reawakens my deepest convictions about the way things really are.

I am sure I held my breath for entire paragraphs during the unfolding of this novel, almost afraid to break the spell of the words.

In Descent into Hell, Williams uses a play within a play, within a setting that is itself merely a shadow of the cosmos, to build a story that simultaneously pierces several layers of heaven and earth and pulls them into each other. The characters are recognizable and, as a reader, I was constantly trying to work out which one was me. This had the effect of the best kind of fantasy literature, enabling a vicarious exploration of all the “what ifs” of our possible selves and their choices that is both instructive and therapeutic.

If you like a story that processes your soul and opens your eyes to the darkness of dark and the lightness of light as well as the blueness of blue and the redness of red, dive in.

This is one of those few books I expect to revisit – just after I’ve read everything else he’s written.

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