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Shambhala Sun | July 2011
FEATURE REVIEW
You'll find this article on page 77 of the magazine.

The Mindful Way to Self-Compassion

The Mindful Way Through Anxiety: Break Free From Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life
By Susan M. Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer
The Guilford Press 2011; 307 pp., $16.95 (paper)

True Belonging: Mindful Practices to Help You Overcome Loneliness, Connect With Others, and Cultivate Happiness
By Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine
New Harbinger 2011; 200 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Reviewed by KELLY MCGONIGAL

A few years ago, I was walking home from the grocery store when a woman called my name. I turned around to see a student from yoga class waving and running toward me. I didn’t know her well; she typically kept to herself in the back of class. I expected to exchange a simple “Hello! How are you?” and go on my way. But when the woman reached me, she broke into tears. Startled, I gave her a hug and asked her if she was okay. “I’m just so lonely,” she said. It was a stunning act of courage, transgressing the usual rule of smiling in public and suffering in private. Then she said something that broke my heart a little. “And you always seem so happy. I don’t know how you do it.”


This student only saw me in one context—teaching yoga. It’s a highlight of my day. And I know better than to roll out my stickiest worries along with my sticky mat, or rattle off my insecurities in between downward-facing dogs. But just like her, I know what loneliness feels like. And just like her, I’ve cried because I wanted to be happier but didn’t know how. And—just like her—sometimes I’ve looked at others and wondered why they didn’t seem to be suffering in the same way.


In The Mindful Way Through Anxiety, psychologists Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer see this as a fundamental confusion we humans face. “We often judge our insides, which we know intimately, by other people’s outsides, because that is all we can see. Often we are surprised and taken aback to find a coworker is struggling with suicidal thoughts, a neighbor has a drinking problem, or the lovely couple down the road engages in domestic violence. When you ride with people on the elevator or exchange pleasantries in the line at the grocery store, they may appear calm and in control. Outward appearances do not always reflect the struggles within.” Because of this, we start to see others as fundamentally “not like me,” and ourselves as broken human beings. We look out at the world and conclude that we are alone in our suffering.

 

It is this misperception that both The Mindful Way Through Anxiety and True Belonging address. While one book aims to help readers with anxiety, and the other to relieve loneliness, they both point to mindfulness and self-compassion as the path to healing. These qualities of mind are not offered as a cure for difficult thoughts and feelings, but as pointers to the comfort of common humanity. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Brantley and his co-author Wendy Millstine make this promise in the introduction of True Belonging, when they tempt the reader with the possibility of “the undeniable realization—in an instant, at the deepest levels of your being—of your profound similarity and commonality with even one single other living thing: a wondrous, insightful ‘they are like me, I am like them’ moment.”


But can the insight of common humanity really be achieved by reading a book?


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