Put the telescope away; the North Star mentioned here is a human body, not a heavenly one. And like Polaris, which has guided sailors for centuries, the human body's gut feelings and emotions can help guide a wayward soul back to his or her "essential self." In this absorbing combination of detailed self-awareness exercises and true stories from her own counseling experience (equal parts sobering and hysterically entertaining), Harvard-trained sociologist Martha Beck invites readers to explore their heart's desires and the vast social webs that keep such desires in check. The goal is not to forsake the "social self" and indulge every emotional impulse of the "essential self." Rather, Beck gives readers the tools and the encouragement to achieve maximum happiness by harmonizing these typically divergent voices.
Beck (author of Expecting Adam) admits that repairing a damaged emotional compass and setting out on such a vital journey--which often involves painful realizations and changes--"has all the combined attractions of suicide and childbirth." But the payoff, she concludes, is a love affair with real life. To that end, she walks readers through a lengthy exercise to evaluate their current lifestyle's pleasures and pains, teaches the process of listening to the body for directional cues, describes how to extract "soul shrapnel" (healing all those nasty, self-defeating emotional wounds), and provides an intriguing "Map of Change" to achieve an authentic life. Beck's impressive knowledge, her engaging (if somewhat irreverent) voice, and her ability to parse this scary process into achievable steps make her a new champion in the self-help arena. --Liane Thomas
From Publishers Weekly
A fixed point in the sky that helps mariners stay on course, the North Star emerges as a symbol for realizing one's true potential in this cheerful and perceptive but too-long book. Though her navigational metaphors lose force with repetition, Beck's voice is light, down-to-earth and refreshing. Having found her way on her own journey from academia (she was a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School) to becoming an author (of Expecting Adam, a warmly received memoir about the birth of her Down's syndrome baby), Beck currently consults with clients on redirecting their lives. She teaches that each individual has a core personality that encompasses one's desires, emotions and preferences, which is sometimes blocked by a social self that responds to external influences and cultivates survival skills. By far the most fascinating material is on how to read warnings from the essential self: low energy, lapses into illness, forgetfulness, addictions, Freudian slips and mood swings. She advises steering toward the correct path by eliminating negative influences and practicing elaborate self-esteem exercises. A section on navigating change weighs the book down while suggestions for dealing with serious emotions like grief and anger are somewhat breezy. In the end, however, the numerous self-quizzes, exercises and chances to laugh will allow many readers to overlook these weaknesses. (Mar.)Forecast: Given the success of Expecting Adam and Beck's freelance contributions to Mademoiselle, Real Simple and Redbook, the author is likely to shine in a constellation of media venues and has a solid shot at capturing the imaginations of self-help seekers.
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