In murky territory in the self-help aisle.
Happy Ides of March.
Is it just me, or is March typically a time for deep reflection? Every year, without fail, I find myself at some sort of spiritual and emotional crossroads that just so happens to fall around March. Whether it’s the fact that March falls right near the end of winter and the cusp of spring (death and rebirth, symbolically) and there is a sense of new beginnings in the air, or it’s just me. Judging by the fact that here in sunny Los Angeles the weather has been hovering in the mid 70s or low 80s nearly every day for the past two months (today it’s 91 degrees), I can’t really pin blame on winter blues or a cite a great anticipation for the warmth of spring.
Last weekend, like any sane person faced with the need for a soul renewal, I turned to Oprah. More specifically, Dr. Brené Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday who was touting her new book “Daring Greatly”. I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider adding it to my Goodreads queue right away, desperately in search of my “aha” moment.
America has a funny and awkward relationship with Self-Help, particularly Self-Help Books. There is a great scene in an episode from Sex and the City where Charlotte, depressed but hopeful, goes in search of the latest popular self-help book for divorcés titled, “Starting Over, Once Again”. As she nervously approaches the Self-Help section at the bookstore, scary music à la the movie Psycho begins to play. To her great embarrassment, she scans the shelves noting each and every book with titles more terrible, outlandish, and verbose than the last. A woman is huddled in the corner sobbing hysterically. As Charlotte picks up the book she came to buy, the woman on the floor says, “That’s a great one. It really helped me a lot”. Horrified, Charlotte thrusts the book back on the shelf and starts to shout, “Travel?? Travel?!”, faking that she’d made a huge mistake.
It must be said that ever since Oprah publicly embraced Self-Help, the genre has indeed come a long way. Dr. Phil, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Oz, Michael Losier, and Iylana Vanzant- among others- have all become house-hold names due to her influence. Even Deepak Chopra, a Self-Helper whose name I remember from childhood, found a resurgence in popularity because of Oprah. Her unique touch on the genre is profound. It went from New Agey and “out-there” to a legitimate way to ease the soul without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. And yet while most Americans will gravitate towards an Oprah touted book simply because her name is on it, the bigger question remains: Do these books really help? And what happens when the Oprah-approved shine wears off on one book/Self-Help guru and the next one comes along?
Remember “The Secret”? How many of you own a copy? Is it it now gathering dust on the bookshelf? Nothing wrong with The Secret, but as I recall, it used to be EVERYWHERE and within the blink of an eye it suddenly disappeared.
I never got on “The Secret” bandwagon, but I did buy “Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t” by Michael Losier- an Oprah find- way back when. And I did get great benefit from the book to a certain extent. I never did do Oprah’s Eckhart Tolle 6 week long online class, mostly because I felt overwhelmed by the amount of options and spiritual guidance that was suddenly everywhere. If I “do” Tolle, what’s next? Self-Help in many ways has become a fad, a popular aspiration to become “enlightened” in our culture. Brené Brown is just the latest in a long line of methods to look at your life differently and gain some sort of spiritual “aha”.
And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with falling into the Self-Help zone, I find myself just following the latest and greatest self-help guidance that happens to be out there at the time without really exploring what works and doesn’t work. I recently read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which deals with following your dreams and listening to the universe. I’ve subscribed to the “universe is listening” ideal for quite some time (inspired in part, by the way, by Losier’s philosophy), but I still felt myself wanting something. Hence, my willingness to jump into Brené Brown territory.
Which brings me back to March. No matter how much I spring clean my emotional and spiritual sector, I still always feel on the cusp of needing a new awakening around this time of year. I’m not embarrassed about it, but I am troubled by the fact that I constantly gravitate towards outside sources for the answers. Brown probably has some interesting insight, but she’s not likely the definitive word on the subject of Self-Help.
And now I ask you: Do you have a book- Self-Help or not- that’s inspired you? Moved you? I’m very curious about what people are reading and finding extremely helpful. Feel free to leave me a comment!