Archives for Mentoring Book Reviews
I am happy to share this guest post by Andrea Wachter, LMFT, who is the co-author of the new tween/teen book "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. I wish this book had been available when I was 11 and starting to crumble inside from the pressure to get thinner. For that matter, it could have been helpful to me during any year of my struggles! Andrea has been kind enough to share some insights from her research exploring the origins of body dislike and body dissatisfaction, thin versus fat, the media's influence, cultural programming and what is taking place today to restore us to body peace. I hope you enjoy her guest post! A Cultural Look at Body Bashing By Andrea Wachter, LMFT* I think it’s pretty accurate to say that most people in our culture are dissatisfied with their body. Many people even despise their body (or certain parts). And this epidemic has no age limit. In my psychotherapy practice I have worked with clients as young as six-years old who are already obsessed with calories, carbs and fat. I have treated people in their 70’s who have no memories of eating bread or dessert without guilt. And I have seen people of nearly every age in between who battle their body on some level. It’s like being a member of a club to trash and bash your body in our image-obsessed culture. Many people bond over what I call “Fat Chat” and many people spend enormous amounts of time trying to change their bodies. Thanks to the media and the diet industry, we have all been set up to dislike our bodies. We are surrounded by unnatural images and unkind messages about how we should look, eat, exercise, think and feel. We are basically taught that if we alter our bodies and achieve the image we have been sold, we will be happy, loved and special. But how did we get here? How did we get to where being thin is often valued more than being healthy? How did we get to a place where young children are counting calories and feeling fat? Why do we have senior citizens who have spent decades and sometimes their entire lives avoiding and fearing fats and carbs? Why are people of all ages devoting more of their precious lives to the pursuit of thinness than to all the other meaningful things they could be doing? Well, I’m glad you asked!
So I have finally come to the end of Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear." Or (though it typically irks me when others say this) maybe I've come to the beginning. When I am drawn to a new mentoring influence, I've noticed that one of the siren songs I absolutely cannot resist is the mentor's ability to marry the mundane (the itsy bitsy small stuff) with the profound (the unknowable, unfathomable, beyond all efforts of the mind to reach it). Gilbert does this stunningly well in "Big Magic." In each story I find bits of both combined in ways that make me feel like we all belong here together, doing what we do, being who we are, struggling with what we struggle with and excelling at what we excel at. It is a lovely gift - especially so soon into the New Year. Right near the end of the book, there is a chapter called "Hungry Ghosts." In this chapter, Gilbert addresses the realization that we are more than "just" any one aspect. For example, we are - or we have - an ego, and we have - or we are - also a soul. The Hungry Ghost is our ego, which the Buddhists say is, "forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed." The howling comes in when the ego gets coddled, perhaps over-fed with the food it likes best, which is success, praise, recognition, reward. We all have it - this ego presence - that bottomless pit that is so deep and vast and empty that no amount of food can fill it. But we also have a soul.
I am nearly finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear." While reading "Big Magic," I have learned all of the following: It is normal (like, on a biological as well as an emotional and social level) to feel fear before, during and after creating. It is more important to see an idea through than to see it through perfectly. Curiosity trumps passion....every time. We are all creative - whether we think we are (or others think we are) or not. But by far the most intriguing thing I have learned is this - ideas are alive. From the chapter called "How Ideas Work:" I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us - albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. WOW. So if I don't opt in, these poor idea-beings will spend their whole disembodied lives attempting to change my mind?
"Hope" is not one of those words I've ever particularly resonated with. This is probably because hope has always felt rather passive - like wishful thinking rather than wishful doing (which I much prefer). Reframed in the context of "faith" (another process that remains very much a mystery), hope makes a bit more sense, since faith implies that at least someone or something else (assuming the entity or concept one has faith in) is taking action towards what is being hoped for. But recently I read a brand new take on hope in Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong." She writes: Hope is not an emotion: It's a cognitive process - a thought process made up of what researcher C.R. Snyder called the trilogy of "Goals, pathways, and agency." Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act. Snyder also points out (as conveyed through Brown) that "hope is learned." At this point it occurred to me that I probably haven't learned it. But I do really like this new way of approaching hope - as an active process, not passive wishing or waiting. Brown goes on to mention that the development of hope is a by-product of struggling in life. Adversity, failure - this is the stuff hope is born from. Oddly, I have had plenty of both of these, and yet I didn't learn hope from them.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with reading Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong." ...or at least those experiences that related to reading the first 30 pages or so. I have now read another 40 pages and have again had to hit "pause" to process. Speaking of processing....did you know our brain gives us a hit of dopamine (a neurotransmitter and pretty much the best drug ever created) every time we successfully complete a puzzle? The puzzle could be a Sudoku page, a crossword puzzle, a game of Hangman...or even a story we tell ourselves. It could be an "Aha moment" - when all the pieces fit or the dots connect and what didn't make any sense at all is now suddenly, wonderfully clear..... And did you know that, in these moments and flooded as they are with feel-good dopamine, our brains don't care if we solved the puzzle/rescued the stick figure/interpreted the signs correctly. They just care that another puzzle is complete so they can get their drug-of-choice reward. What this means, according to Brown, is that we can and probably do tell ourselves incorrect stories and have inaccurate "Aha moments" all the time. Brown refers to a neurologist named Robert Burton as the source of this newfound knowledge, sharing this from his work in "Rising Strong:" Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don't need to be accurate, just certain.
Recently I began reading Brene Brown's new book, Rising Strong. I haven't gotten very far, though. This is because it only took a few pages before I realized (yet again) how much she knows that I do not. For instance, did you know there are three acts in every story? This includes Hollywood movies, literary classics, our daily life and all the rest. Here is a basic summary of each act: Act 1 - The main character of the story is offered a chance to go on an adventure, solve a problem, learn a lesson, et al. They waffle for a bit, then accept. Act 2 - The main character looks for all the easy ways to get from A to Z, discovers none of those ways are available and hits rock bottom. Act 3 - The main character finally tackles the hard way and (depending on the plot line) succeeds or doesn't. So here is the thing. I've always been aware of Act 1 - new beginnings and all that. And Act 3 is hard to miss, seeing as how it is often full of fanfare and finality. But Act 2....honestly, I guess I've always just categorized it as the "sh** happens" phase.
I am just finishing up the most fabulous new book called "The Birds of Pandemonium." Written by the founder of Pandemonium Aviaries, Michele Raffin, this book has shown me my own strengths - and weaknesses - in my avowed lifetime love for birds. For instance, I have one bird. At last count, Michele's aviaries housed 350. My one bird has his own carefully contained (and vigorously swept) room in my house. Michele's birds have every room in her house - and also many rooms built especially for them (these rooms are called "aviaries") outside her house. I get up around 10 a.m. and consider it a great effort to boil an egg, toast up a waffle, and/or scoop up a tablespoon each of whole grain crunchy cereal and birdseed for Pearl's breakfast....and given the relative size of my bird to the relative size of his breakfast, I only have to do steps 1 and 2 about once a week. Michele gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to begin chopping, baking, portioning, and delivering specialized avian diets for 350 specialized avian palates. After they have dined, she then has to clean up about 350 dishes. Granted, now that Pandemonium Aviaries is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Michele has lots of volunteer help. But no one knows better than a fellow nonprofit founder (aka moie) that the pressure to do more, and do better, never ever stops. Not to mention that - especially in the early years - she faced a rather staunch brotherhood of exotic bird breeders who overall hadn't much use for a gal with a soft heart for the injured, abandoned, neglected, misunderstood, and otherwise traumatized cast-aways in the exotic bird world. But none of that stopped her.
I have a friend named Laura who is very afraid of snakes. She has a husband, two kids, and a Masters degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management. Laura has been bitten by monkeys and rabbits and has faced down a whole room of Congresspeople without quailing. But she becomes literally paralyzed with fear at the sight....or even the scent....of snakes. Her full name is Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, and I know about her fear of snakes not because she is my longtime friend, colleague, and mentor, but because I recently read her memoir, titled (wait for it) "The Specific Scent of Snakes." While reading her memoir, I also learned about her life in rural Virginia, where she and her family lived in a house with (her words) "fallible electricity" and a party phone line, as well as a fairly eclectic assortment of animals including goats, rabbits, chickens, foxes, and, well, snakes. I learned about her three heart-wrenching miscarriages - each losses that occurred long before she and I met, but which affected me perhaps even more deeply because of this. I also learned how she began to make and sell her own soap and how, in the course of her healing process post-miscarriages, she came to adopt a baby son. And I learned how amazingly good she became at denying the undeniable presence of snakes in her country home...until one day when she finally met one of the household's scalier residents face to face.
About 12 months ago, I came across an intriguing Forbes post called "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do." So of course I blogged about it here. Then, just a few weeks ago, the post's author, Amy Morin, reached out to share some exciting news - her new book by the same name will be available on December 23rd! This made me very happy for a few reasons: a) She offered to send me a copy so I could share the book here (free books, yay!), b) amidst the holiday stress, a reminder about how to stay mentally strong was welcome and timely, c) the book greatly expands on each of the 13 points, explaining through stories and examples exactly how to avoid doing each of the 13 things (and replace them with mentally strong habits instead!) Amy is a licensed clinical social worker, a researcher, a writer, but most of all she is a human being who has personally experienced how developing mental strength is a choice, and one that can be life-transforming.
In my last post, I introduced you to a great book called "Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond" by Meg Daley Olmert. Of course, this book addresses the mutual benefits to humans and non-humans of making and maintaining close-knit cooperative bonds. What I did not expect to encounter within its pages was evidence to support that plants can achieve the same. I love plants. However, the feeling has never seemed particularly mutual. Even my highest best intentions has not produced any surefire way to keep the plants in my household either green or alive. So imagine my surprise when I read the following: Susan Dudley and Amanda File of McMaster University in Ontario found that plants, like humans and animals, are capable of social recognition. Plants actually recognize other plants that are related to them, and when they see another plant as kin, they refrain from competing with it for root territory. It is not known whether plants can extend any sort of social recognition to the humans who care for them, but James Cahill of the University of Alberta and his colleagues found that they do respond to human touch.