The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the first two-thirds of this book to be kind of a slog. There are some really insightful gems in there, but Eisenstein’s style is so incredibly wordy, I wasn’t sure it was worth it to keep reading. I kept going just because a dear friend said the book was awesome, and I wanted to get a sense of what she’d gotten out of it. With the chapter entitled “Righteousness” about 170 pages in (well beyond the point that I usually set a book down if it’s not doing it for me) the book really seemed to coalesce, and I started to get into it. It was still wordy, but it was either less so or the insights were profound enough for me that the wordiness no longer bothered me.

The basic premise is that the problems in the world are based on the fact that we operate within a Story of Separation, and that story isn’t firm reality; it’s just a story. As such, we can choose to live within a different story instead. Eisenstein offers the Story of Interbeing as the alternative, and goes on to enumerate the nature of the Story of Interbeing and the difficulties in moving from one story to the other.

What really struck me about this book is that I’ve been thinking about the myth of Separation myself for quite a while. Sometimes I’m more trapped in Separation and sometimes I feel almost completely immersed in the story of Oneness (as I think of it), but it’s always in my consciousness, pulling me towards it. Read More

Chaos, Wonder and the Spiritual Adventure of Parenting, edited by Sarah Conover and Tracy Springberry

Even before I became pregnant with my first child, I began amassing baby care and parenting books. Unsure of myself as a parent, I sought solace in the opinions of others. Over the last decade, I’ve grown into my role as mother enough that I’ve given away most of the books I’d collected in those early uncertain years. Most days, I trust in my ability to doggy paddle through the waters of motherhood and make the best choices—or at least the best I can manage—for my children and my family. I do some spot-checking, looking back to trusted authors to borrow their faith in a parent’s abilities on those days when I feel the water at my chin and rising quickly, but mostly I feel competent enough to weather the fear on my own or with a phone call to a friend.

Now that I’ve left the parenting instruction manuals at thrift stores in three states, I’ve found myself yearning for a different sort of book. I find myself looking for a book that reflects the spiritual nature of my life as the mother of small humans, that recognizes the challenges and the joys as part of something that feels much larger than the decision about how much screen time my kids should have or the anxious moments scanning tiny print to make sure there are no hydrogenated oils in the store-bought cookies. Because I’m a UU and because I’ve had great luck finding the kinds of books that speak to me in the UUA bookstore, I aimed my browser in that direction and found Chaos, Wonder and the Spiritual Adventure of Parenting, which turned out to be just what I’ve been seeking.

Sarah Conover and Tracy Springberry join their essays with those of twenty-four other writers from a variety of faith traditions to tell stories of how parenthood has broken open their hearts, as Rosemary Bray McNatt puts it in her essay. Reading this anthology, I felt like I was in the presence of kindred spirits, surrounded by people who, though they come from very different backgrounds, face the same daily struggle I do of remaining sane in the face of the huge emotions our children bring to the surface.

Through their successes and failures, loves and losses, these fellow parents uncover more strength and love within them than they imagined was there. I especially love the stories about how the challenges of parenting has made these individuals more effective and patient in helping others outside their families. This is one of the fears I have—that the skills I’m developing at home with my children aren’t really transferrable to the adult-filled Outside World and once my children leave the nest I’ll be completely useless—and reading about those who’ve seen this whole thing through to the post-kids-at-home stage helps me feel less terrified for the future.

“How do we change our conditioned responses from the wounds inflicted by our families of origin so that we don’t harm our own children? Either parenting becomes our spiritual practice, or we bequeath the damage to another generation.” -Sarah Conover, from her essay, “Orthopraxy”

Read for the 2015 TBR challenge.

A Writer By Any Other Name

When people ask me, “What do you do?” I get all squirmy inside. I should really come up with a technically true but nevertheless evasive answer, like, “I develop and implement curricula for children learning outside the traditional classroom setting.” Or I could go with, “I read and write reviews about the classics of western literature,” or, “I spend my days repeating tasks only for them to be undone so they can be repeated again.”

Back in my college days and in my early 20’s, I would say with confidence, “I’m a writer.” In our writing classes, we were encouraged to say this as a kind of affirmation. “I am a writer!” And if I didn’t completely believe it, the evidence supported the claim. I wrote every day and then I workshopped my writing with other self-proclaimed writers. I did public readings and published my poetry and prose, if only in the campus literary magazine. The future was ahead of me. Surely I was destined to be published widely and appreciated in my own time.

These days—post-corporate career, post-self employment, post-birth and breastfeeding—I answer with only feigned confidence. “I’m a writer.” The response I used to get was, “Oh? What do you write?” to which I would answer, “Creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays, but I also write short stories and I’m working on a novel.” I could still use this answer because it’s all still true, but now the question is different. It’s changed from, “What do you write?” to “What have you written?”

I’m not sure when or why this shift happened, but I suspect it’s because the wrinkles around my eyes and the silver highlights in my hair mark me as someone who has had ample time to achieve at least some of her youthful ambitions.

It seems a particularly cruel question, but I doubt it’s intended that way. I should, I guess, take it as a compliment. I seem so capable and well-spoken, the questioner just assumes that if they’ve not seen my name on a book cover or in the byline of an article in The New Yorker, it’s the result of their own oversight.

I could just tell them, “I blog,” but I hate to disappoint them. Or perhaps it’s less about disappointing them than admitting that blogging isn’t really what I intended back when I first called myself a writer. It exposes the doubt I feel when I claim that I’m a writer.

But just like in college, the evidence supports my claim. I write every day. I give occasional public readings, primarily in front of my UU congregation. I even publish my writing, albeit in a venue that doesn’t involve getting past editorial gatekeepers.

In her book Writing the Sacred Journey, Elizabeth Andrew refers to writers who write because “writing brings them nearer to the ineffable essence of life.” I write for this reason, and I think this is why I’ve always written. I write for connection. To paraphrase Andrew, I write because it helps me birth myself. I write because I just do. If life tossed me a Robinson Crusoe and I was alone with little hope of ever seeing another human much less signing a book for them, I would still write.

I suppose if I wanted to stifle any follow-up questions about what I do, I could go with, “I write to birth myself.” It’s true, but it’s just not what people think of when someone says, “I’m a writer.” But for me, at least, I think it’s the part that has to come first. If I write from my heart and write the truth—even if it’s fictional—and that leads me to a life that looks more like what people think of as the life of a writer, with book signings and publicity tours and a Wikipedia entry with my name on it, then that’s fantastic.

But if not, I’m still a writer.

Evidence: A pile of completed notebooks. (Not pictured: everything on my hard-drive, nearly 1,000 blog posts (and 100's more on my other blogs, past and present), and dozens of other notebooks.)

Evidence: A pile of completed notebooks. (Not pictured: everything on my hard-drive, nearly 1,000 blog posts (and 100’s more on my other blogs, past and present), and dozens of other notebooks.)