Friday, December 30, 2011

Thea Stanley Hughes

A name that is largely forgotten now in the annals of Australian literature is Thea Stanley Hughes.
Hughes was an innovator, a feminist, a dancer, a prolific author and proponent of self-help philosophies.
She came to Australia as a teacher of dance, establishing the Women's League of Health, an organisation that taught a style of dance-exercise that was, in many ways, the equivalent of aerobics in 1930s Australia. She was an advocate of the hygienics movement, a popular fad that endorsed clean living, healthful diet (mostly based around vegetarianism) and plenty of exercise and outdoors experience.
She remained an exercise and dance teacher for many years, but slowly she became an author as well. Developing some of the ideas of hygienics, Hughes began to write about the great and the self-reliant who she saw embodied in the explorers of early Australia. She used their biographies as guides to self-help and moral development.

This style of writing had a great pedigree, of course, having been perhaps most successfully done by the original self-help writer Samuel Smiles.
Thea Stanley Hughes moved on to more didactic material that was modelled closely on the conventional self-help books coming out in Australia in the 1970s.
Significantly, Hughes was an Anthroposophist, and most of her writings reflect the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, to a greater or lesser extent. Towards the end of her life she became a quasi-mystical figure and developed something of a cult following. She was involved with the Christian Community, an Anthroposophical offshoot that sought to explore Christianity more deeply.
I am discussing Hughes' work in the current chapter of my thesis, which explores the New Age and the significance of minority religiuous traditions in Australian writing, most notably Theosophy, Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism and, as embodied in Huges, Anthroposophy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daily Word for the Spirit

I have blogged before about the Daily Word, the bi-monthly magazine of affirmations produced by the Unity Church. It is one of the longest-lived New Thought periodicals, and is a charming remnant of really pure New Thought ideas.
The enormous amount of inspirational content produced by the magazine is being used, these days, in a series of spin-off books. Each book is developed around a theme (in this case the rather nebulous "For the Spirit" - I also own the much more solidly focused Daily Word for Weight Loss) and provides a "best-of" selection of stories and affirmations from the mag.

I have just finished Daily Word for the Spirit, which was also a Unity FM book club choice on the Hooked on Classics show, so I had the opportunity to read it closely and hear it explained by the editor and some of the people whose stories are featured, week by week. I really enjoy this process, and am a solid fan of Hooked on Classics - though I'm always running months behind.
This particular book was interesting because it contaned a chapter from Iyanla Vanzant, herself a bestselling self-help writer and once Oprah Winfrey's favoured spiritual teacher. Vanzant's chapter falls toward the end of the book, and in it she details some of the struggles she has faced in her life. She talks about the power of generosity and of supporting others, and here she says something really interesting:

"I talked to them about...the strength derived from loving yourself and other people - giving and serving not because of the rewards, but because you love it and it feels good."

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Books - The Last Batch?

This might be it. My dissertation is due on February 9, and I have reached the point where I really just have to write up all teh research I have already done - there is no time to embark on some new tangent.
So here is the last hurrah (hopefully) - the last few books I have purchased for my own research.
From the top:

How I Would Help the World by Helen Keller - I think this is just her book My Religion re-titled and re-packaged for a more secular 21st century audience. In it she expounds her understanding of Swedenborg's theology and how it impacted her life and made her the person she was.

Tiffany's Swedenborgian Angels by Mary Lou Bertucci and Joanna Hill - A beautiful book which discusses the symbolism of the exquisite stained-glass angel images Tiffany created for a Swedenborgian church in the USA.

Flow-dreaming by Summer McStravick

Hegel's Political Philosophy ed by Walter Kaufmann

Goethe's Poems

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Joel Goldsmith's Christianity

It's interesting as a blogger to see what gets commented on most.
And for me it is my posts about Joel Goldsmith.

There are obviously many dedicated readers and students of Goldsmith's work out there.
One of the comments I got on the blog yesterday prompted me to do this post, as it addressed a question I have myself been considering for many years: Can Joel Goldsmith be called a Christian?
Rhoberta, the commenter, mentioned that Goldsmith himself rejected the label. This doesn't surprise me, as almost all of the New Thought teachers saw themselves as universalists who drew on all the world's religious traditions and whose teachings were in turn accessible across the board. And while this sentiment was admirable, in practise the written work and the rhetoric of Goldsmith, Fillmore and others was so rooted in Christianity and in Biblical reflection that it makes their work very difficult for the non-Christian to negotiate.
I worked for many years in a New Age bookshop, and Goldsmith was always shelved there in the "Christianity" section. I had not read him at this stage, but was fascinated by his books because they were among the only ones that ever sold from that section. I remember asking customers on several occasions what Goldsmith was all about and they suddenly grew very mysterious, and so I was left none the wiser. I read at some stage a passing reference to him in another book as a "Christian Sience writer" and this made him even more mysterious, as Christian Science was by that stage (in mid-90s Australia) an almost entirely forgotten tradition, and I was intrigued as to why we sold so many copies of The Infinite Way.
I'd actually be really interested to see some specific references to Goldsmith's denial of his Christianity, as I have been unable to find any in the books in my collection. I would suggest that his teaching is entirely grounded in the Christian tradition, via the heterodox theology of Mary Baker Eddy. Like his predecessor Charles Fillmore (who had also emerged out of Christian Science), he invoked the Christ ideal in his writing. Australian journalist Tess Van Sommers, in her quaint 1966 overview of Religions in Australia, sums up this theology perfectly, writing "Jesus Christ is not a Divine personage. He is looked on as the man who developed the power of divinity within himself to the fullest possible extent. Christ is regarded as the power of God within Jesus, and potentially within all humans, which can enable them to demonstrate their oneness with God."
Goldsmith writes frequently about this idea of an inner Christ, of "the Christ in each one" (Gift of Love, 1975). While it is far from orthodox Christian theology, it is nonetheless an idea entirely focused on the Christian ideal, employing Christian language, and it is rarely expressed in any other way (unlike, for example, in the work of Ernest Holmes, which occasionally makes reference to Buddha-nature and other Eastern spiritual concepts).
Goldsmith describes Christ, or the Christ-ideal, as the ultimate in spiritual attainment, the summit of spiritual perfection, writing in Practising the Presence:

"I was led ultimately to that grandest experience of all, in which the great Master, Christ Jesus, reveals that if we abide in the Word and let the Word abide in us, we shall bear fruit richly..."

Finally, I wanted to make the point firmly that Goldsmith was for many years a conventional Christian Science practitioner, as described so interestingly by Lorraine Sinkler in The Spiritual Journey of Joel Goldsmith, Modern Mystic. One of my other readers, Jean F., rightly castigated me for previously dismissing Goldsmith's Christian Science period as a brief blip in his spiritual development.
So yes, I would suggest that, in all outward forms and for all basic purposes, Goldsmith was a Christian. Certainly, if you pressed one of his books into the hands of an average 21st century secular reader they would be incapable of distinguishing his writing from that of the devotional tracts of more conventional Protestant clergymen - which is why you will normally find his books mouldering away in the "Christianity" section of second-hand bookstores. But I absolutely accept that, on a a more careful analysis, he was a deeply heterodox religious thinker who, perhaps, saw himself as a universalist and whose personal theology was so removed from conventional Christian thinking as to be rejected by most mainstream-Christians as entirely heretical and outside the fold.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dr. John Harrison

I have begun my chapter on the intersection between health and self-help, and one of the authors I want to explore is the Australian Dr. John Harrison.
Harrison was something of a medical celebrity in Australia in the late 1980s, and through the advocacy of Louise Hay he became a worldwide influencer in the field of alternative health and the mind-body interaction. His magnum opus is a book called Love Your Disease It's Keeping You Healthy, and I hope to look at this book in some depth in this chapter.

It was an immensely influential book in its time, selling over 100,000 copies and becoming a bestseller in America.
Harrison seemed to have been combining New Thought ideas with fashionable psychology, naturopathy and Eastern-influenced health advice (he speaks glowingly of the concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine). Indeed, his seeming "blame-the-victim" rhetoric is quite stark in the book, and quite unembarrassed. It is not the sort of thing that would be published now.
Harrison's reputation was later destroyed through some extremely questionable accusations of sexual misconduct, and Australian journalist Sue Williams wrote a fascinating book about this case called Death of a Doctor (2005), in which Harrison is vindicated and posited as something of a victim of the conventional medical establishment.
It's interesting to examine an Austraian book which had a great influence on American self-help writing and publishing - quite a reversal of the usual state of affairs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 2: Reading Notes

I am quite close to finishing this chapter on the self-help literature of business, sales and marketing, and I do think it is making for quite a fascinating chapter. I am, of course, running well behind schedule, and I really have to try to speed things up somewhat.

There are a number of Australian business people who have written self-help books intended for a more mainstream audience, as well as more specialised books directly targeted at a readership of salespeople or small businesspeople. The first book I am looking at is John McGrath's You Inc. McGrath is a Sydney real estate tycoon, and he once came to speak at a conference I was organising when this particular book was released. I remember that he didn't at all conform to the stereotype of the business go-getter. He was quiet, reserved and even shy. He was addressing an audience of booksellers, a breed known for its complete cynicism, and there wasn't much connection going on. They were horrified at his ideas of laminating your goals and putting them inside your shower for you to read while you are soaping up your extremeties.

Paul Hanna is the main focus of this chapter, and I find him an intriguing character. Again, I have seen him in action, and he conforms completely to the stereotype of the motivational speaker. He is garrulous, loud and totally guileless. And perhaps because of these qualities I watched him actually win over another audience of sophisticated cynics. He also portrays himself as the failure, which is an interesting trope in self-help literature - the little man who overcomes in spite of the odds. You Can Do It! and Don't Give Up! are both highly autobigraphical, and so rich sources for my study.

I've wanted to read Anita Bell's work for some t ime, especially her books about paying off your mortgage in 5 years. The idea appeals to me, though the reality is starkly horrible. Basically you reach real-estate success by starving yourself and not leaving the house except to work. Your Success in Five Years or Less is ostensibly about a more general plan for success in five years or less, but it's really just about paying off your mortgages quickly and investing in more real estate.

Networking books are a whole sub-genre, and I have read many of them. How to Master Networking is by an Australian author, and is filled with practical tips. It's actually an incredibly useful book and as a result I haven't read it with much of an eye towards theory but to actually employing some of Robyn Henderson's methods.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Books for the Thesis

The end is in sight, but if anything that means I need even more books. I've had it with going to the library by now - I am at home writing up, and when I need a book I want it right next to me with a cup of coffee and my favourite harp concerto.
So here's what I decided I couldn't live without, and what I will be reading over the next couple of weeks:

The Heart of William James ed. by Robert Richardson - My obsession with William James continues apace.

Inevitable Grace by Piero Ferrucci - Ferrucci was a student of Assagioli, a radical Italian psychotherapist who was a major influence on the work of Australian author Stephanie Dowrick.

Derrida for Beginners by Jeff Collins and Bill Mayblin - Here I am almost at the end and I still don't really have my head around theory or philosophy. I keep bumbling ahead, however, doing my level best. And still I'm at this level.

George Herbert Mead: A Unifying Theory for Sociology by John D. Baldwin - Just looking at this book terrifes me.

How to Know God by Deepak Chopra - Much more familiar terrain here.

Reason in the Age of Science by Hans-Georg Gadamer - What the hell was I thinking? I remember - Stephanie Dowrick references Gadamer in her book on Rilke, and he seemed fascinating. Now he just seems terrifying.

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore - No idea.

Self-Help Inc. by Micki McGee - I have actually read this book several times over, but always from the library. I figured it was time to get my own copy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peace in the Present Moment

Peace in the Present Moment is a beautiful little hard-covered gift book, and it is a meditation experience all on its own. The words of famous New Age writers Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie are matched with the most incredible flower photographs of Michele Penn - photos that are described as "soul shots" of flowers.
It's a beautiful introduction to the world-changing work of these two authors, offering the reader nice digestible chunks of their wisdom which will almost certainly cause you to investigate their writings further. The quotes in the book are all from Eckhart Tolle's Oprah-changing international bestseller A New Earth and Byron Katie's less well-known A Thousand Names for Joy (a book I happen to like very much).
The book begins with a lovely, lyrical introduction from Stephen Mitchell, acclaimed translator and Katie's husband. In it he talks about the flower as symbol of enlightenment, and provides the loveliest quote from Iris Murdoch:

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have the things about us."

Isn't that beautiful? I am already something of a stopper-and-admirer of flowers, but that has encouraged me to cherish flowers even more for the wonderful little miracles that they are.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

"There is a perfection beyond what the unquestioned mind can know. You can count on it to take you wherever you need to be..." Byron katie

"When you hate what you are doing, complain about your surroundings, curse things that are happening or have happened, or when your internal dialogue consists of shoulds and shouldn'ts, of blaming and accusing, then you are arguing with what is, arguing with that which is already the case. You are making life into an enemy and life says, "War is what you want, and war is what you get."" Eckhart Tolle

This book would make a lovely gift to a more spiritually inclined person.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walter Mason to talk on Angkor Wat

I hope you'll indulge me in a cross-post to let you know that I am giving a talk on Monday the 24th of October, 2011, in Sydney. Details:

Angkor Wat: The Beauty and Spiritual Significance of Cambodia's Great Forgotten City

At the Southern Cross Academy of Light
Monday, 24th October 2011
St John’s Uniting Church Hall, cnr of Yeo Street and Barry Street, Neutral Bay. Enter off Barry Street. Session starts 7:30pm. Entry Fee: $15, concession $10.

Forgotten for centuries in the jungles of Cambodia, Angkor Wat was once the world's greatest and most sophisticated city. Re-discovered by French explorers in the nineteenth century, this massive stone structure was both a political and a religious centre, built to illustrate the creation myths of Hinduism, and later accommodating many of the schools of Buddhism. In this fascinating talk Walter will take us through the stories, history and meanings of the great temple of Angkor Wat.

Walter Mason is a travel writer whose book on Vietnam, Destination Saigon, was named by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of the 10 best travel books of 2010.
Walter is currently at work on his next book, a spiritual journey through Cambodia. He is also in the final stages of writing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Western Sydney's Writing & Society Research Group, where he is writing a history of self-help literature in Australia."

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Importance of Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures

Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, which Mark Twain famously described as “chloroform in print,” is one of the most tremendously influential texts in the histroy of self-help literature. These days, with Christian Science fading from public consciousness, it is easy to forget the tremendous influence this philosophy had on the popular cultural imagination, and just how many of the ideas contained in the book were absorbed into the understanding of alternative health, spirituality and self-help. Its author, and the eventual founder of the Christian Science Church, was Mary Baker Eddy, an impoverished New Englander with a patchy matrimonial history and a lifelong history of largely psychosomatic illness.

I think we have hugely underestimated the cultural power that Eddy’s movement maintained over Western culture up to the 1960s, including here in Australia. Writers, celebrities and Hollywood stars were all drawn to this religion that validated women and denied the dogmas of the traditional churches. This was the case, too, in Australia, where Christian Science churches and reading rooms popped up in every capital city. In Science and Health... Eddy sets forth her theological understanding that all that is good is of God, and all that is bad is illusion, for God is the only reality:

"all real being is in God, the Divine Mind, and that Life, Truth, and Love are all-powerful and ever-present."

This huge, prolix and immensely difficult book became almost an instant bestseller, establishing the market for spiritually-inspired books of self-help healing that continues till this day. The success of the book and of the religious movement it inspired meant that by the end of the nineteenth century Mary Baker Eddy was ver rich, powerful and influential.

The crest on the front of the book reads:

"Heal the Sick, Raise the Dead, Cast Out Demons, Cleanse the Lepers."

These, of course, being the miracles of Christ, which Mary Baker Eddy believed all of her followers should be able to emulate. To this end she forbade the use of conventional medicine, though she herself famously visited the dentist towards the end of her life.

Eddy’s empire was, however, not without its critics. In Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, Leigh Eric Schmidt makes the old point that Eddy's book was largely influenced by the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a travelling New England healer who was immensely popular in the middle of the nineteenth century and who was responsible for many of Eddy's own cures. Eddy later rejected this notion, claiming that all of the ideas in the book were her own, divinely inspired. She said that the book was "hoplessly original," perhaps hinting that even she was aware of some of it stylistic shortcomings. And in denying sin, suffering and evil, the book was, of course, entirely heretical and opposed to any mainstream theology. In rejecting the notion of original sin, Horton Davies, in his book Christian Deviations, wrote that:

"Christian Scientists are tone-deaf to the tragic notes of our human symphony. Life's foes demand to be faced with bracing realism, not evaded by Christian Science escapism."

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14: Reading Notes

This week I've been working on my chapter on the literature of sales, management and prosperity, and if I say so myself it is shaping up to be an interesting section. I have decided to explore 5 main themes in the chapter (this is usually the way I do it, though one or other of the themes normally fades away from lack of interest): Playing the Game of Life; Being Valued; The Book as Agent of Improvement; Controlling Our Reality; and The Moment of Success.

The main author I am using in this chapter is Paul Hanna. He is an absolutely intriguing figure, and I once attended a conference where he spoke, so I feel I have more of a handle on his whole technique. I will be drawing principally from his books You Can Do It, Don't Give Up and The Sales Motivator.

Another author I am using is the flamboyant advertising man Siimon Reynolds, especially his books Become Happy in Eight Minutes and Why People Fail.

The last person I am examining at any length is Sydney real-estate tycoon John McGrath and his book You Inc. Again, I have seen him in action at a conference, and his style is nothing like Paul Hanna's - he is quiet and shy and does a whole understated act.

I suppose that people imagine such books would be terrible, but in fact they are very effectively written, filled with quotes and case-studies and lots and lots of motivating exhortation. All of the above writers are actually quite good at what they do, and I would suggest deserve more respect than they will probably ever get from the literary establishment.

The central book I am comparing them all to, and the book they themselves cite frequently, is Napoleon Hill's classic Think and Grow Rich.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Orison Swett Marden Wanted Us to Create Miracles

Orison Swett Marden is a name almost completely unknown now, but in the early part of the 20th century and well into the 1930s he was a bestselling writer in the mental science/New Thought field. He was quoted extensively in other self-help books, and was really one of the greatest of the early self-help gurus. For some reason, however, his books simply haven't stood the test of time, and he has none of the continued fame of the writers he had influenced, such as Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie. This is sad, because Marden is quite a good writer and a clear communicator, and his books would be quite suitable to modern audiences.
Possessed of the most wonderful name that must, all on its own, have been something of an inspiration (an "Orison" being a special kind of prayer of supplication), Marden preached success from a position of knowledge - he had been both a successful doctor and later a wealthy hotelier. Marden had been inspired by the work and example of Samuel Smiles, another medical man, and the inventor of the term "self-help." Marden established Success magazine to chronicle positive stories about success, and it is still in publication today, having been revived by W. Clement Stone.
At present I am writing a chapter on the literature of sales and prosperity in Australia. I am using Marden's book The Miracle of Right Thought as my historical counterpoint, and thought I'd share some of its wisdom, and give you a taste of Orison Swett Marden's worldview.

1. If you constantly think about the bad aspects of your life, you will continue to experience misfortune Marden says, "Prosperity begins in the mind, and is impossible with a mental attitude which is hostile to it." This is one of the central tenets of New Thought, of course, and one which some modern readers find makes them uncomfortable.

2. If we open our mind to good and beautiful things, we will experience them As Marden says, "Our circumstances in life..are all very largely the offspring of our thought."

3. The Infinite Source (God) is exactly like a loving parent We mostly limit ourselves by harbouring a fearful idea of God, and "do not expect half enough of ourselves; we do not demand half enough..." If we only asked for it, God would give us everything we desired, and more.

4. Pessimism is a dangerous and life-destroying mental quality Quite a gloomy outlook for those who spread gloomy thoughts, I'm afraid. Marden says: "A fatal penalty awaits those who always look on the dark side of everything, who are always predicting evil and failure, who see only the seemy, disagreeable side of life."

5. Those who keep their goals in sight will be victorious What is required is resilience and persistence, and a belief in the ultimate certainty of our best and greatest hopes and desires. Those who create a vision of the future actually do end up creating their futures, for "A man was not intended to be a puppet of circumstances, a slave to his environment, he was intended to make his environment, to create his condition."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Books

I am madly, madly scurrying to finish my thesis, and beginning to realise the annoyance of not having key books at home. So in my attempt to remedy this I have a new pile of books exclusively for research. From the top:

Jung and Tarot by Sallie Nichols - Jung becomes increasingly important as my dissertation progresses, so I am trying to buy what I can cheaply. And this subject would normally intrigue me anyway.

On The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The thing that bothers me with this is that I once owned a copy (from my old days of studying political science) but got rid of it in one of my book purges. Never do a book purge.

The Rampa Story by Lobsang Rampa - I think I read this when I was a teenager. When I was putting together a seminar on Buddhism and self-help I suddenly found myself referring to Rampa a lot - have to go back and re-visit the old rogue.

The Mystic Life of Alfred Deakin by Al Gabay - Theosophical history in Australia.

True You by Janet Jackson - IS self-help, though. I love Janet!

Thorson's Principles of Jungian Spirituality by Vivianne Crowley - I'm a bit of a dunce, and when I discovered this one at the Theosophical Society library I actually found it immensely helpful in understanding Jung, so I bought my own copy.

The Buddha Book by Lillian Too - This is just such a beautiful book! Ostensibly for my chapter on Eastern Religion.

Four Archetypes by C. G. Jung - My supervisor was very keen on me extending on the uses of Jungian archetypes in self-help, so I thought I'd better read up.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius - Funny how this has been revived in recent years as a self-help book. One discoveres it cited everywhere now. Thought I should actually read the whole thing.

Sartre in the Seventies by Jean-Paul Sartre - The seventies were pretty cool, and I wanna get a bit of Sartre in to my thesis.

Mysticism: The Experience of the Divine - This is very slight, and not at all what I expected. Doubt it will be useful.

Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre by Simone de Beauvoir - See above.

C. G. Jung Speaking by William McGuire and R. F. C. Hull

Aion by C. G. Jung

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walter Mason now has a Tumblr Account

For what it's worth, I have just started a Tumblr account, where I post moderately interesting stuff every day.
Do come over and visit and even follow me if you like.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some new books to explore

In the absence of time to read a lot of books very carefully and provide detailed, academic and nuanced reviews, here are some overviews of books I've been looking at:

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is one of the self-help classics of the 1980s. Apart from having an exceptionally good title, it is also written in a lively and engaging manner, is intensely practical and on the whole was probably deserving of its bestseller status. The author Susan Jeffers is a psychologist, and uses her autobiography quite skillfully in the book as inspiration and moral lesson. Like some other self help greats (How To Win Friends and Influence People), Feel the Fear... started life as a course at a community college, and is filled with stories of students and patients that Jeffers has known in the course of her professional life. I've actually read the book several times, and have found it incredibly helpful over the years. Indeed, it is one that I often recommend to people. Strangely, I haven't quite been able to situate it in my thesis, and so far it remains un-referenced in my dissertation. I continue to read it, however (and I have the audio version, too!).

The use of axiom, proverb and pithy sayings is endemic in self-help literature, and whenever I come across a particularly hoary old one I am always drawn back to Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, the source of so many nuggets of popular wisdom, such as:

"Light purse, heavy heart." "To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals."


"He that won't be counsell'd, can't be help'd."

This collection of folk sayings was drawn from Franklin's years of publishing a popular yearly almanac. It really is the most extraordinary book, and quite fun. I recommend you read it.

I have been aware of the work of Geneen Roth for many years. She was big in the 80s and popularised the idea of compulsive eating. She seems to have moved beyond the addiction model now, and in this, her most recent bestselling book, she seems to be associating obesity with a lack of spirituality. Oprah loved this book and featured an interview with Roth talking about Women, Food and God in her final series, thereby guaranteeing the book's enormous success. Like many of the writers that emerged from the recovery movement, Roth is compulsively confessional (her books are very similar in style to those of Melody Beattie), and she uses this confessional mode to establish quite an intense intimacy with her readers. This book is quite mystical in tone, as the title would warn, and veers occasionally into the downright enigmatic, with Roth toying with ideas that seem inspired by both Zen Buddhism and Vedanta. Interesting that the publisher took the risk of identifying this book as being solely for women, when in fact its content is not so exclusive that it would rule out a male readership. They obviously know who's going to be buying the book. Still, I'm not sure I would have chosen that title, and as it is I am too embarrassed to read the book on the train.

Just a gripe - this book's jacket design does what every bookseller in the world hates the most: it puts the subtitle ("50 Lessons to Find and Hold Happiness") above the book's actual title (Life's Little Detours) and in clearer font. This means that 90% of people will remember the book by the subtitle (I do), which means when they look for it on-line or go into a shop and ask for it...well, you can figure out why this is a disaster. It's a lovely little book, in the age-old "Numbered List" format ("50 Lessons...") which seems to be eternally popular. Each lesson started life as a newspaper column, and the author's sparing, journalistic style makes this book all the more successful and readable. I bought it on a whim when I was absently wandering through a bookshop, and liked the few pages I read. Not sure that it belongs anywhere in my dissertation, though.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You Can Create an Exceptional Life

Though she has established a self-help publishing empire, legendary author Louise Hay has herself written just a few books, and is really only known for one - the paradigm-changing and trend-setting You Can Heal Your Life, originally published over 20 years ago, and in recent years turned into a really very good movie.
I recently saw Ms. Hay live on stage at the I Can Do It! Conference in Sydney, and she was looking sprightly for an 80-something woman. She announced and launched her brand new book that day, a small dialogue with Life Coach and Oprah favourite Cheryl Richardson called You Can Create an Exceptional Life.
Though slight it is a well-edited and quite fascinating book, teaching many of the basic principles of New Thought and filled with autobiographical detail about Louise Hay, much of which real fans have heard before. The fresh re-telling actually works well, however, putting the stories of rising above hardship into a new context, and giving the much younger co-author Cheryl Richardson something to bounce off and react to.
The book is basically created from a series of Skype conversations between the two women, much of the time while both were in pyjamas, apparently. I hope they recorded the sessions - what a vision for future generations!
There is in the book a hint of defiance, a creeping weariness with the cynics and nay-sayers who instinctively dismiss everything the two women represent. Richardson says, "I no longer defend the spiritual principles that have guided and shaped my life. They work and I know it." In an age of radical atheism and hegemonic negativity, I am beginning to notice that advocates of a more feel-good spirituality and world-view are becoming ever-so-slightly radicalised. It would be interesting to chart this new turn.
Both women credit the influence of the great New Thought ideas and thinkers, in particular the work of Emmet Fox and Florence Scovel Shinn. At the heart of those teachings is the idea that most humans are possessed of enormous potential powers to re-shape the world and to create a life of abundance and happiness.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Andrew Jackson Davis

One of the grandfathers of self-help writing is Andrew Jackson Davis.

Known as the "Poughkeepsie Seer," Davis is seen by many as the father of spiritualism and at the height of his career he was a prominent figure throughout America. His long and rambling books (one of which I've read at the University of Sydney's Fisher Library) were exceedingly popular. Davis helped popularise in the new world ideas of mesmerism and animal magnetism.

He was a student of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and could quote passages from Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia by heart, complete with page references. Such was the learning style of the day. Davis set about copying Swedenborg's methods of spiritual contemplation, entering into altered states of consciousness where he said secrets of the universe were revealed to him by divine entities.

Interestingly, Davis was later to deny his own study, claiming that he was functionally illiterate and that his wisdom came direct from the heavens. But those who knew Swedenborg's work (and in the mid-nineteenth cntury Swedenborg's writings had quite a following in America) saw too much of it in Davis' philosophies to believe his claim of ignorance.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New Books - Self Help

Here are my new acquisitions for August reading. From the top:

From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur by Stephanie Chandler - A book describing the new way of thinking about making money, through selling books and information. Should be quite interesting from a perfectly selfish level, and also will help me when I do my chapter about wealth and business books.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh - This book has done really well in America, though largely unheard of here.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers - From Seth Godin and Amazon's Domino Project, this book has the most fabulous cover.

Space Clearing by Stella Martin - When all of my electronic and mechanical goods began breaking down last month, someone told me I needed to do some space clearing, so I got this book. And of course, it fits in to my occult chapter.

Change Anything by Kerry Patterson et al - Don't really know anything about this one, but it's received pretty prominent placement in Australian bookshops so I thought I'd better read it.

Life's Little Detours by Regina Brett - Gorgeous cover.

Free Your Creative Spirit by Vivianne and Christopher Crowley - I often teach creative writing classes, so am always looking for new ideas. The authors are prominent Wiccans.

You Can Create an Exceptional Life by Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson - I was at Louise Hay's I Can Do It! Conference on the weekend, and this book was launched early in Australia especially to cash in on it. I managed to buy the very last copy! I'd better read it quickly so I can tell a waiting world what it's about.

I Can Do It 2012 Calendar by Louise L. Hay - A year's worth of tear-off information, this desk calendar is a perennial bestseller.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 25: Reading Notes

This week I am hoping to finish chapter 5 of my thesis, which is discussing the work of bestselling self-help author Stephanie Dowrick. And so I have been immersed in her books, most of which I have read before. I am using her 1992 book Intimacy and Solitude as my anchor text, though I will be drawing extensively on all of her other books - perhaps even her novels. As always, my task is to find patterns, repetitions and echoes of former writers in the books, as well as teasing out the influences and the traditions to which they belong.

Dowrick's work is especialy helpful on this front (representing rich pickings for me) because she clearly cites her influences, and there are many other writers and thinkers quoted in her work. As a theme for the chapter, and the filter through which I am interpreting Dowrick's work, I am taking "the return of the sacred" - a theme which is, helpfully, the subject of her most recent book Seeking the Sacred.

As with every chapter, I take a four-tiered approach to reading and collecting my research: First I read the primary texts of the author being discussed. I will also include here relevant, connected, material by other Australian writers. Secondly I read critical and historical material relevant to the particular chapter, including similarly-themed books published in America and the UK. Thirdly I hunt down journal articles relevant to the author and her themes. I have been greatly aided in this process by comments by Dowrick herself in her books - she is a clear sign-poster of the sources of her ideas and inspiration. In particular there is a passage in her 2004 book Free Thinking where she cites her influences as: "Alfred Adler...Martin Seligman, Carol Travis, Robin Skynner and Thich Nhat Hanh." A neat little reading list, to which I would probably add Rumi, Roberto Assagioli and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The War of Art

When this book came out I was working in a new age bookshop, and it was one of those titles that come out of nowhere - no hype, no warning, just suddenly everyone was calling up and ordering it. I wasn't much interested then - the title kind of put me off, and I assumed it was aimed purely at visual artists.
Fast forward four years or so, and the author, Steven Pressfield, has shot to prominence one more with his rather daring new book Do the Work. Endorsed by Seth Godin, published by Amazon & Godin's new outfit The Domino Project and sponsored by GE, it represented a whole new type of book. I haven't read it yet, but am very keen to.
But all the renewed talk of Pressfield brought The War of Art to prominence once more, and after listening to him interviewed on a couple of podcasts, I knew I had to get it.
And yes, having read it I have become, instantly and unchangeably one of the members of the cult of Pressfield.
Put simply, this book will change your life and the way you look at your work. A few pages in I was shaken by how simple and how true it all was. It was as though the author was writing specifically about me and my own life history. And the thing is, EVERYONE says the same thing about the book. It really is that extraordinary.
What is its central message? That we all have a "work" within us that we were put on this earth to do, and unless we start doing it our lives will be frustrating, unhappy and ultimately destructive. Pressfield says that the task we resist the most is the one we are meant to do, and that we should do it first thing every day, thereby fulfilling our sacred role on earth.
And you don't need to be an artist, a writer or an opera singer to be able to get something out of this book. Pressfield is adamant that we all have an important task to do, even if it isn't what society would call "creative." Whatever you feel called to do - dance, travel, teach or (Pressfield's favourite example) run a plumbing business - you need to get out there and start doing it now. Your life depends on it.
I was so inspired by this book, but also gained some solid practical advice from it. He suggests we treat ourselves as our own company, and every Monday morning have a weekly task meeting for ourselves, writing out our list of jobs and duties that need to be completed by the end of the week, I am definitely going to start doing this.
The dangers that threaten to steer us from our true course are legion, and Pressfield is merciless in demanding that we jettison all of them. From being overly-sensitive to criticism to being lost in procrastination, The War of Art identifies all of these as traps, as part of the "resistance" that we cultivate, and allow to drive us from our best work .
You simply must read this book. It is by far the most inspirational book I have read in many years, and it has already had a huge effect on my life and output. All writers and creative workers will benefit from its advice.
The man is a genius.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Discover the Gift

Discover the Gift by Shajen Joy Aziz & Demian Lichtenstein

This is the kind of product that will be instantly recognisable to many – it is a book to accompany an inspirational film, a genre established simultaneously by The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know.

And as in both of those 2 instances, the book stands alone as its own inspirational and motivating read. I was drawn in almost from the beginning as the brother and sister authors told their own personal stories of alienation and then renewed love and closeness.

And, like The Secret, Discover the Gift brings together some really big spiritual teachers who talk about our reasons for being on this earth. Not just a movie, not just a film, the authors describe this as a MOVEMENT! Some of the featured teachers include: Barbara De Angelis, the Dalai Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mary Manin Morrissey and my personal favourite Michael Bernard Beckwith.

So we’re in something that’s very much an established and popular tradition tradition. But that’s not to say that it’s not good – it is. Very stimulating, incredibly inspiring. Let’s face it, we always need reminding of these ideas:

  • · That choice is possible, and that our choices direct our lives

· That life is the most precious, wonderful gift

· That we need to express our gratitude for all of the wonderful things in our lives

That we need to practice more solitude and focused thinking

The Book describes 8 Distinct Universal Spiritual Steps:

1. Receptivity

2. Intention

3. Activation

4. Feedback

5. Vibration

6. Adversity and Transformation

7. Compassion

8. Love

I particularly loved Jack Canfield’s contributions – he's the Chicken Soup for the Soul man, and if you haven’t read his newer book The Success Principles I really recommend it, as it will change your life. In Discover the Gift he is talking about establishing newer, more positive and productive habits in our lives, jettisoning the old conditioning.

One of the authors, the sister, Shajen Joy Aziz, stresses the importance of constant action in pursuit of our gift. Too often we let our talents lie fallow, when we should be employing them every day. She urges to do one thing, no matter how tiny, to keep the momentum of our dreams, and to keep us on that path of realisation.