Sunday, May 4, 2008


I have currently stumbled upon three seemingly different books, which upon reading, turned out to be not so different after all. The first is Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D. It is about coming to embrace everything in your life with an unconditional love and acceptance. It uncovers one of the biggest lies we've been taught as human beings, that there is something wrong with us. As Brach states, "Believing something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering."

The second book, a new release, is by Eric G. Wilson. The title says it all: Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. Wilson's thesis is that melancholy is not some annoying idiosyncrasy to be drugged or self-helped or distracted out of us, but to be embraced as the basis for art, music, culture and the expansion of the human experience. To quote Wilson:

"This quest for happiness at the expense of sadness, this obsession with joy without tumult, is dangerous, a deeply troubling loss of the real, of that interplay, rich and terrific, between antagonisms."

If you've read my blog you'll know that I have a penchant for melancholy and have spent the better part of the past 33 years of my life coming to terms with it. It is only in the past year though that I have began to question the idea of this melancholy as enemy. I dare say we've become friends and rather than shy away or impulsively self-medicate in some form or fashion, I now invite the melancholy. I see it, at best, as a teacher and springboard for creation; and at the very least, as a reminder of my own humanity.

To be human is to experience a wide range of emotional states. Perhaps this incessant search for happiness that seems to have befuddled the Western world is at its core, the search for the self. But rather than learning to embrace the human experience, we have allowed ourselves to believe that there is something wrong with us when feelings of discomfort come knocking at our door.

What if, and this is the first time I'm saying this so very publicly, what if there really isn't anything wrong with me? What if I really am okay? What if all these years spent in search of healing, was really just my search for the wholeness that was already there?

What if the sadness, the anger, the grief, the melancholy, the joy, the elation, the peace, the calm---all of it--are parts of the whole? No part better or worse than any other. All a beautiful and imperative part of the human experience. The yin and the yang. It is the juxtapositions in life that bring out its richness. What's that saying...'without the struggle the victories do not taste as sweet.'

And that brings me to the last book I've come across recently. It's an older book, written in 1972, called Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus. As you see from the cover I've included above, it's the journey, told in both prose and picture, of two caterpillars; caterpillars in search of meaning. I won't ruin it for you. It's simple and delightful. And incredibly moving. If you've been a caterpillar wanting to know what it's like to be a butterfly you'll be able to relate.

These three books have been life changing for me. Sometimes you come across books and think they've been written just for you. Or at the very least, you've been directed to them at just the right time. Granted, if I'd read that Radical Acceptance book as a teenager I think it would have saved me much suffering. But then, the suffering has lead me to the butterfly I am now. One never knows what will happen in the cocoon. Where there is life, there is hope.

tall penguin


Vanessa said...

I must read that last one.

tall penguin said...

I just ordered some copies at the store. I think we're the only ones in the city with it. It would make a beautiful gift.