Although this book, a tree grown from the seed of Galen Pearl’s blog, isn’t available for sale until Oct.2, I decided to post this review a day early. I expect much of the nation will soon be busy nit picking the Presidential candidates’ debate on Oct.3. I’m never going to get to live in a world where more people would rather mull over a good book of short stories than argue about who to vote for, but I can still dream.
Galen is an organized, tenacious, determined woman. She’s a recently retired Professor of Law, black belt martial artist, who has raised (or helped raise) five children, including two autistic boys. I would need more wall space for all those certificates and licenses, and a second refrigerator for drawings, photos and report cards. But, as explained in the book, she’s a problem solver.
The crucial problem she had not solved through all this activity and accomplishment was that she had done it partly by denying herself happiness. So, by combining many wisdom traditions, she imagineered simple methods for rediscovering and remembering her Happy Place. Those are the Steps. Though they are organized into ten large categories related to aspects of achieving happiness, there are hundreds of tributary paths offered you can take in following your own journey.
“Many of us hold our happiness hostage to some future circumstances: I’ll be happy when I get a job, when I lose weight, when my kids shape up, when I meet the right person…but happiness is, as they say, an inside job. Happiness is not a destination, not something to be pursued. It is the way we live. Happiness is a choice we make every moment, and each moment is a new opportunity to choose.”
This isn’t really as much a self-help book as it is a self-acceptance book. I’m not saying there’s no work involved, but many of the chapters discuss ways we program ourselves to deny vulnerability. Forgiveness, compassion, gratitude and acceptance are the sisters of mercy, ways to heal old wounds and become more open to love. Tips on practicing joyfulness and generosity are illustrated using stories from Galen’s own struggles and triumphs. My favorites are the chapters that probably hurt her the most to write. I cried quite a bit, and I don’t do that as easily as I want to. It’s a wonderful experience to feel like you are sharing another’s trials.
“She wrote about being called to the phone years ago, when she was in graduate school, because her mother was dying. That call would be the last tender and loving conversation they had. Later that day, someone she didn’t know very well said that she had inadvertently overheard the conversation and offered words of comfort as best she could. My friend wrote that these words meant a lot to her and reminded her of the importance of sharing our hearts with everyone.
The writing was so eloquent and deeply moving that I went to my friend and started crying as I expressed my gratitude for her sharing this story. She replied, “Don’t you remember? The person who came up to me was you.”
Since Galen has studied the nature of happiness from a wide range of teachers, readers can also benefit by many kinds of apt aphorisms from the Bible, the Tao, Socrates, Shakespeare, Joseph Campbell and others:
“You’ve got to ac-cen-tuate the positive,
e-lim-inate the negative,
and latch on to the affirmative.
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” — Johnny Mercer
I read the book straight through a couple of times before realizing that it also works well as a devotional, and it doesn’t matter all that much which direction you read it or what chapters you read in what order. Everyone has his or her own level of understanding about happiness. We’re all on our own rung of the ladder. Some folks don’t hold grudges, but still fear death. The chapters are short. Flip through and land anywhere. It might be just what you need at that moment.
“The pessimist was left in a room piled high with every toy a boy could ever desire. The optimist was left in a room piled high with horse manure. After a while, the pessimist was found sitting in a corner of the room, the toys untouched. When asked why he wasn’t playing with the toys, he replied sullenly, “Why bother? They will just break anyway.” The optimist was discovered laughing with glee and digging like crazy in the horse manure. When asked about his strange behavior, he exclaimed without missing a beat, “I know there’s a pony in here somewhere!”
Galen’s two sons can’t live independently, but they are well and happy living and working in a group home organized and supported by the non-profit Edwards Center (http://www.edwardscenter.org/). The proceeds from the book are being donated to this organization, providing residential and vocational services to adults with developmental disabilities.
My grade? Soulful, Inspiring and Useful in All Weathers – 10/10.