Steering by Starlight

Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What!Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What! by Martha N. Beck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are content in your work and relationships you don’t need this book. If you feel a need to push through with your shackles rising and a heavy heart, or feel ‘hopelessly stuck’ or lost, Steering by Starlight holds the keys to setting yourself on the right path again, and staying on it.

From the outset, Martha Beck (Expecting Adam, Leaving the Saints) warns this will be no ordinary process of seeking knowledge, setting goals, and analysing performance. You will need to suspend disbelief, although this is no book of fiction or fantasy. If you fully commit to the sometimes unbelievable ride, you are likely to find yourself equipped with the practical skills for deep, lasting and soul-liberating re-alignment, with the life that feels right for you firmly in your sights.

Replete with lizards, dungeons, star-charts, miracles and protagonists from the Dark Arts – it may sound too far out if you feel uncomfortable with everyday magic. But far from having her head in the mists of fantasy, Martha Beck has vast experience as ‘America’s best known life coach’ (USA Today), backed up by a rare intellect, and decades of study and research. Beck’s own extraordinary life, in which she has overcome obstacles that most of us would believe impossible, is a testament to both her courage and the efficacy of her process. To help her readers along the unique path that waits for each of them, she sets them up to expect to manifest those things in their lives that they believe are out of reach.

Those willing to ‘bracket’ what she has to say long enough to reap the benefits will soon realise that embarking on the course to their right life may feel a lot like how Harry Potter must have felt, as he stood at Platform nine and three-quarters. But once through to one’s Stargazer-self the corpus of wizardry translates to the familiar challenges of navigation – replacing fear with love, challenging false beliefs, grounding one’s self in one’s inner core of peace, developing and trusting our intuition, and knowing when to bail out when confronted by intractable nutters.

“Whenever outer-limit rewards escape us – when our hearts are broken, our trust betrayed, our health compromised, or our dreams dashed – [the] process of grieve-or-disbelieve is triggered, and our attachment to the shallow, material shell of life weakens. The gravitational pull of the Stargazer self draws us inward, trying to get us to the place where our hearts can heal once and for all and our real dreams comes true,” says Martha Beck.

The alternative is to live out our days in the never-enough, lizard-eat-lizard, material land of the shallows with ‘the devil you know’. I know which I would prefer.

Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What!

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Leaving the Saints

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My FaithLeaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha N. Beck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do we call those who trade belonging with truth, so they can be free of the legacy of childhood abuse or domestic violence, if not warriors? Martha Beck is such a woman. Her memoir, Leaving the Saints, is a sequel of sorts to her bestselling book, Expecting Adam. This time the story is about Martha, who could not have imagined the confluence of events that would open her mind to the unimaginable truth about her past.

After the birth of her child Adam, Martha and her young family return to Utah, the heartland of the Mormon faith where she grew up. She settles into the supportive Mormon community, and takes a position at the Brigham Young University. Lecturing in feminism was never going to be easy for Beck here – it was an act of courage that came with the risk of losing her job, if not her association with everyone she knew and loved, including her family.

Although Beck acknowledges the selfless good deeds of many Latter-day Saints (as the followers of the faith call themselves), she also shows Mormonism up to be the ‘difficult parent’, who demands loyalty at the expense of a member’s ‘mind and soul’. And for female followers, the sacrifice can also include the flesh. Eventually she is shocked by the apparent wide-scale evidence of sexual abuse of girls in the faith. She says, “It is virtually impossible to describe how thoroughly Mormon culture still maintains the standard of submissive, obedient women, and powerful, infallible male leaders.”

As a result of her meticulous research, Beck discovers the depth of fraud behind the scriptures of the Mormon faith, a religion created by Joseph Smith in the 1830s, which is now followed by over 15 million people world-wide. She is sickened, as is the reader, by the magnitude of the contract of pretence and censorship that its followers are forced to comply with.

On a personal level, we watch as Beck is drawn into the slow-burn of what psychologists call sanctuary trauma, “the result of … running for protection to the very places and people who reaffirm the message” of the original trauma.

It is in this context that Beck also explores her relationship with her father, a prominent Mormon elder with a very public profile. By the time Martha’s story takes place he is a very old, emotionally supressed man, possibly suffering from PTSD. Even when Martha was young, he proved himself to be so self-absorbed that he would sometimes break into one of the many languages he is proficient at in the middle of a conversation, in total disregard for his listener. He also goes to surreal lengths when called on to discuss difficult topics by quoting from classic literature rather than using his own words, to which Beck, with a similarly keen intellect, is able to respond in kind.

The endurance of Martha Beck in her efforts to hold on to her family of origin without forfeiting herself, and what she knows to be true, are nothing short of epic. Deeply curious, Martha continues her quest to understand her father and the faith that consumes him. Her wisdom and personal maturity seem to develop within the pages of this book. Towards the end, her deep desire to reconcile her experiences with her religion generates an accumulation of wisdom and a personal philosophy of life that emanates off almost every page. She is not vengeful or bitter about her losses – the greatest losses that any human can suffer – but rather develops a profound appreciation for what it means to be a spiritual being, and how, beneath our fears and armour, we all are.

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

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‘Wild’ Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wild Cheryl Strayed. And she wrote a book about it; although ‘strayed’ doesn’t come close to what Cheryl Strayed did when she took on the epic journey, solo, along the Pacific Crest Trail in west USA at the age of 26, and finally published her bestseller, ‘Wild’.
Authors like Pema Chodron explain to us the instructions for mindfulness when the going gets rough in ‘When things fall apart’. Authors like Brené Brown explore through research, the indispensable human faculty of vulnerability in ‘Daring greatly’. And Cheryl Strayed demonstrates how it’s done, step by excruciating step, on a real mountain range, with the load of all loads on her back, and the equal emotional and psychological weight that flings her, barely prepared, into her journey.
Her mother’s death – as inconceivable yet inevitable as the Pacific Crest Trail itself – and the subsequent slow avalanche of family disintegration, compel Strayed to go ‘wild’.
A coming to terms with her mother’s death, the journey becomes the journeyer. After months of trekking and arriving at the scarred landscape at Crater Lake in Oregon, the landscape becomes a metaphor for the depth of Cheryl’s Strayed’s own wounds, and a promise of healing.
I want to find flaws with this book, to make this a balanced review, but given the magnitude of her story how can I? I’ll never come close to embarking on such a test of mettle. Although given how I feel – my calf muscles strengthening and back straightening as I move through my days around my reading of her book – who knows?

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‘Wired for Story’ Review

I define my editing skills by before and after I read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Discovering why we want story – what lies beneath our fascination, what our brain is subconsciously looking for – my perspective on reading took a 180 degree turn after finishing this book.

Wired for Story reveals the psychology and neurology behind the mechanics of fiction, and shows how to harness this knowledge to create compelling writing, from hook to closing sentence. I admit, there were times I felt like I was reading about a fail-safe formula for success every time; and that fiction could end up taking on the sinister ways of advertising if everyone had access to this knowledge. Or worse, that all stories might end up predictable and similar. However, Cron does not go into the psychology of creative language features like metaphor, syntax or voice, so I reminded myself, and thanked my mythical namesake for the infinite pleasure to be had from these, no matter how many times I read an un-put-downable story about a protagonist coming through.

This book has become one of my ‘most annotated’, and I see that others who have reviewed it elsewhere are never without it as they write. A crutch or an essential tool? You be the judge.

Posted on Goodreads, 2012