267 of 283 people found the following review helpful
If you haven't yet read a Martha Beck book, don't choose this one as your first (or second),
This review is from: Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want (Hardcover)
I read my first Martha Beck book about 13 years ago, and instantly admired her sense of humour, writing skill, down-to-earth personality, intelligence and academic achievements, and concern for other people. The more I've read by her, seen her on tv, etc., the more highly I've thought of her.
I haven't read all her books, skipping the one about her son Adam, the one about dieting, of course the Mormon-focussed one she wrote a long time ago with her (now-"out", now-ex) husband about overcoming addictions (including how to overcome being gay) (and now Martha is "out" as well, having lived with a female partner for many years, although I just learned about that side of her life last year, and I saw a 2011 interview of Beck by Oprah Winfrey during which Oprah learned about Martha's being gay, and Oprah was also quite shocked she had not known about this before, since they have worked together for many years).
I especially recommend her book _Finding Your Own North Star_. The follow-up _Steering By Starlight_ is okay, but kind of dips into the "woo-woo factor" more than most people are probably comfortable with (although I was fine with it myself).
Martha's writing can make me laugh, cry, marvel, and groan, often within the same few paragraphs.
[By the way, you can find a generous amount of her material for free on her personal website, and I think all of her monthly columns from the O Magazine archives are available at Oprah's website - many of them are well worth spending a few minutes on, if her writing style floats your boat.]
Therefore, I was looking forward to reading this, her latest book. I am disappointed in it. Not only because I expect so much from her, but because it's so... circular and woolly. The subject matter is by definition hard to describe in words, but she is a better communicator than this. To me it felt like an early draft, filled with too many stories and metaphors and words, which normally gets whittled down into a tight, well-flowing, easy-to-follow manuscript before it is published.
Some of the negatives, in my opinion:
-Text was too long, didn't flow very well.
-There were too many stories of her experiences on the game preserve in South Africa.
-There was too much about animals (and willing them to appear in front of her). Too much about far-flung, expensive travels. I know she deeply enjoys both and that both are integral to her lifestyle and recent discoveries about the universe, but the repetitiveness marred the book for me.
-It felt like half-autobiography, half-self-help-guide, and the two parts didn't join together as smoothly, for me, as she obviously meant them to.
-The "practical" steps about how to be a healer/"wayfinder"/"mender"/etc. were scattered too much around the book, and the example tales that were meant to illuminate the practical steps were often so long and involved that I forgot what their purpose was.
-Sometimes, she assumes that readers have some prior scientific or esoteric knowledge they may not have, while at other times she explains things a bit too simply.
-She makes up some terms for some of her concepts, which makes sense because the typical terms in English do have a lot of preconceptions and emotion attached to them, but she then uses too many new terms for the same concept, and most of her new terms were just a shade too "cutesy" or something for me. The capitalization of various words, like Team and Imagine, began to grate on me too.
-She keeps saying, "my friend Noelle" or "my friend (whoever)", and there is a certain point when any reader is going to know that Noelle (or whoever) is, yes indeed, that same friend with the unusual name whom Martha has already mentioned 25 times. Are the people she refers to by-name-only not her friends? It felt a bit "adolescent".
-She is a bit obsessed with having slept in the same bed as Mandela, in the same resort as Mandela, having walked the same pathways in the game preserve as Mandela. It is interesting of course, and mentioning it once is fine, but after that, it's kind of pointless. [I used to work in the room Chopin died in, so slap me with a blue plaque. ;-)]
-She tells a few of the same life stories that she has told in other books, which most self-help authors do and it's no problem, but it occurred to me that each time that I've read several of these stories, new aspects have been unveiled (which she had been aware of from the start). I wish that, the first time I'd read her telling of her stories, I would have learned all about them, at least all the relevant information. I realize that she's been playing a delicate game, trying to write books that would appeal to and give comfort to (and not freak out) the public while she's been negotiating a complex and fraught emotional journey in her own life (leaving her religion, accusing her dad of abusing her as a child, being cut off by her family, getting divorced, drinking the mystical kool-aid so-to-speak, etc. etc.) But I do feel a bit misled, because I had thought that the original telling of the stories would have contained all the pertinent details. However, I know this is too much to ask of an autobiographical writer, especially one who doesn't want to push the public's boundaries so far that she isn't given a chance to express herself.
-It is interesting to see that about three different times in the book, she is quite critical about "New Age" people and she even mentions the film of "The Secret" (in all but title) in a disparaging way, even though I recall that she was a guest in at least one hour-long Oprah tv show which mainly lauded that film. I agree with her criticisms of certain magical thinking, and certain "New Age" topics, but then she turns around and keeps quoting Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and that _Eat Pray Love_ woman as experts and guides for her way of thinking, as if they themselves weren't deeply New-Agey (and as if they were not all annoying and much less profound -- in my opinion, anyway! -- than the American public seems to find them). [I lost some respect for Martha when I realized she holds these people up as the ultimate sages -- but that's just me.]
-A reviewer on the Amazon UK site says that Beck doesn't veer into "law of attraction" stuff, but that IS precisely what she is talking about with her 4 steps. She doesn't call it "law of attraction". But it's pretty similar to it. Some of her steps remind me of steps from Chopra's book on it from about 8 or 10 years ago.
-She assumes that almost everyone reading the book is going to be a "healer" type of person, and does not go into any other archetypes or destinies (whatever you want to call it). She also assumes that every "healer's" life goal should be helping other people find joy. I don't have an opinion on it, but I wonder if it's that simple for every single person who determines that she/he has a "healer" personality.
-Although she said she's spent years researching magic, medicine men/women, shamen, ancient tribes, healers across the ages; and mentions many ideas, experiments, historical events, locations, and people, there are very few references in the book. The only references are to YouTube videos of antelopes jumping and that kind of thing. It's obviously not a textbook or a scientific journal article, but some selected references would have been welcome. Also, of course she mentions her sociology PhD, but historically and in modern times there has been a lot of study of these topics by countless anthropologists, folklorists, and even medical doctors (like Larry Dossey), which I'm not sure she mentioned at all in the book. I know this isn't meant to be an exhaustive review of the "magical" in human experience, but I found it to be a bit waffly and breezy.
-In her promotion of "magic", communing with animal spirits, opening right up to the universe, etc., I know that she is very well-meaning and feels that she knows all the ins and outs -- and she does give a few weak caveats about this throwing oneself wide open to all and sundry, such as beaming comforting, calming vibes to angry and hostile people and imagining a light surrounding you that will supposedly dissolve any bad vibes coming at you -- but it is my impression that she seriously downplays the potentially negative aspects of this sort of individual, amateur, unprotected dabbling. She does mention several times that the ancient tribal healers that she has studied went through decades and decades of training, mentorship, and so on before they were put in charge of this role for their social group -- yet she pulls out some of their "technologies", describes them in a woolly, convoluted way, and encourages her mainly-American, mainly-middle-class, mainly-untrained-in-this-realm readers to rush into these practices on their own with no personal backups in place in case something odd happens, with no broad understanding or training, with no previous experience with the "field". It's too simplistic, too rosy. I think it's not safe enough, spiritually, as described here.
-The subject of mystical, healing drugs (like the one she had, at least at one point, decided to take in a magic ritual led by a South American shaman, and ended up being affected by -- even though she didn't, apparently, ingest it) is complicated and I hardly know anything about it, but she seems to indicate that it's safe, brave, and normal to do this kind of thing without much preparation, and I am not sure that it ought to be that simple or that easy, nor that it is without any danger of side effects/lasting problems. [A fellow student from my university days took something like this and was injured physically and mentally and his life rapidly fell apart, never to be the same. But one can't extrapolate from just one example.] Serious, methodical, logical, educated, open-minded researchers like Dr. Andrew Weil (in his younger days) have researched deeply into this kind of thing, and of course this sort of hallucinatory drug use is engaged in by many folks around the world. However, I think it's only responsible to mention how to learn about the risks, the chemistry, the methods, the legality, the "spiritual" history, etc., if you are going to casually suggest doing this sort of thing for personal growth.
I think that Martha Beck is well-meaning and kind. She's brave, hard-working, and intelligent. She is usually a very good writer. She has an uncommon gift of making readers feel more normal, less alone, happier, calmer. But this book was a disappointment to me, and is my least favorite of her works that I've read.
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Showing 1-10 of 30 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2012 9:45:09 AM PDT
D. kiash says:
I would be curious to know what the downside is that you mention "in dabbling"--all seems pretty innocuous to me?
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 12, 2012 3:27:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 12, 2012 3:53:48 PM PDT
Primrose Hill says:
It's beyond the scope of this platform to go into this topic, and anyway, I'm certainly no expert.
It's kind of like the "small print" leaflet that comes with a prescription drug - not very exciting to read, full of potential risks that aren't fun to think might happen to oneself, easy to skip over when reaching for the relief the medication can bring, but technically is the individual's responsibility to be aware of before availing himself/herself of the "miracle" solution.
If one is interested in this topic, it's quite easy to do some internet searches and find calm, intelligent, helpful explanations of some of the risks inherent in these activities (even activities that only involve "thinking" or "visualization".)
One easy-to-obtain book that jumps into my mind at the moment is _Be Careful What You Pray For, You Just Might Get It_ by Dr. Larry Dossey, which I think has a small amount of information on how prayer can backfire, how other people's prayers can actually negatively affect oneself, and the so-called "evil eye" believed in by many cultures, etc. One easy thing you can do is look up that book on Amazon, and see what other books have been bought at the same time by purchasers of the Dossey book, or have been recommended by readers of the Dossey book.
Another idea is just looking up a handful of related terms on Wikipedia -- you will find entries which link to dozens of further topics in the same vein.
I'm not saying all the information available "out there" is correct, but some of it is.
If one is willing to suspend disbelief long enough to try some new-agey/traditional/magical kinds of activities/thoughts, then one should also be open to learning about the potential risks of these activities, and maybe a good place to start is with the very cultures and ancient traditions the magical "technologies" are being drawn from in order to be presented to our modern society, often without sharing the FULL contexts in which they are taught and carefully practiced in those originating groups.
There must be a great deal of literature out there that touches on these cautions and are aimed at the mainly-unaware "Western" reader; works by anthropologists, works by members of those cultures themselves, works by religious writers of all stripes, works by so-called "magicians" from the last few centuries, even "new age" blogs such as that of Erin Pavlina (to name but one).
Basically, no matter what one's level of spiritual belief or disbelief, type of religious affiliation (if any), or trust in 'academic' types of research, one can find information that is pertinent to this topic and is explained in a way that makes sense to oneself.
Posted on Jun 10, 2012 9:47:42 PM PDT
Luvs Deals says:
Thank you Primrose Hill. You stated my feelings exactly, with much more prose and intellectualism (is that a word) than I ever could have mustered up. I found myself 'rolling my eyes' many times throughout the pages, and I am only halfway through. It almost seems as if she's gone off the deep end. I enjoyed her 'North Star' book immensely, which is why I purchased this one. Very dissappointed.
Posted on Jun 22, 2012 3:46:20 AM PDT
I saw Martha Beck this past Wednesday in South Africa at a talk promoting her new book. Whilst I agree her other books like The Joy Diet are fantastic I was rather disappointed in her latest. I have read literally hundreds of self help books and related topics for more than 30 years and consider myself fairly open and enlightened, but this was too much. I felt as though she was almost desperate to come up with a new spin to sell books; and it felt contrived. I doubt I will buy the latest book.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2012 6:39:11 PM PDT
WOW. Saying she's gone off the deep end just because you didn't resonate with the topics in this book is a very unfair, judgmental thing to say. If you have no interest that's fair enough but if you have no experience in what she is talking about and are passing judgment it's really ignorance. I for one do have experience in almost everything she is talking about and my heart lept for joy when I read her perspective, experiences and the exercises...it is very much like the creative process if you do any kind of art or into any sort of sport or hobby you lose yourself in.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2012 6:44:13 PM PDT
If you FELT that way without giving any specific examples and just subjective feelings without any evidence it's judgment.
I loved the exercises I've done so far,the wordlessness and inner awareness practice, I find them priceless in their value for opening the mind to broader, higher wisdom.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 16, 2012 4:52:00 AM PDT
Mary A. Rose says:
Of course it's judgement! These are opinions. Glad you liked the book, but Primrose Hill was spot on.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 22, 2012 10:27:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 22, 2012 10:40:06 PM PDT
Primrose Hill says:
Edit: Okay, now I see how one can click a link above a comment to locate which earlier comment the new commenter is responding to. Before, I had not noticed that feature.
Originally I thought that maybe Brenda Brewer was commenting on my review, but I see now that she was commenting on the comment by Luvs Deals.
In any case, with her trademark humor and self-aware modesty, I expect that Beck would agree with Luvs Deals' observation that it "almost seems as if she's gone off the deep end"! Surely Beck said as much or worse about herself at one or the other point in the book. :-)
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2012 4:54:28 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 4, 2012 4:55:17 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2012 5:05:51 PM PDT
Yes, you are correct Primrose Hill! I was responding to Luvs Deals. I'm actually teaching a class here in NYC on a whole brain art technique in a few weeks...but it's not trying to make something happen you want to happen so much as letting go of what you think you want and allow whole brain functioning to show you something better :) It's super fun!