Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Book Review of The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown, LCSW, MBA
The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown may appear like a beautiful coffee table book, but it isn't. There are attractive and interesting illustrations but book's strength is in its text. The book is divided into five main sections: Start, Wisdom, Action, Resilience, and The Art of Meaningful Lives. The sections of the book are organized according to the change process. The Wisdom section contains the preparation that you need before change can happen. Action covers behaviors that can help you move towards your meaningful life each day. Resilience helps you battle avoidant behavior and return to your goals. While the last section, The Art of Meaningful Lives contains profiles of people who are successfully living their passions.
It may be that I'm reading it during a time of uncertainty and change, but I found the book personally helpful and wish that I could share it with several close friends and relatives that are going undergoing upheavals in their own lives.
In Start, Brown writes about highly functioning individuals that are successful but have a sense that "this is not how things are supposed to be" and wonder "Where did the excitement and passion go?" He describes such a life as one of quiet desperation and contrasts it with "meaningful lives with personal fulfillment and passion." Surely, most of us has felt that our jobs or lives have lacked passion and personal fulfillment. For this reason, I believe that the book speaks to a broad range of people.
Out of all the sections of the book, I found Wisdom to be the most helpful and would like to focus on this section of the book for my review. In Wisdom, Brown provides ways to build self-awareness and exercises to help develop mind management skills. Brown suggests that we begin by building self-awareness, countering negative self-talk with positive back chatter. He proposes this exercise: count the times that you put yourself down or make a negative self-assessment during the day. As you notice the negative self-talk, assign a new meaning and counter the negativity and be kinder to yourself. Replace the negative statement with something positive - you may have to tap into the group of people that have supported you throughout your life (mentors, family, friends, colleagues who know you) and think of what they would say to the question, "What are all of the good things about me?" Each time that you criticize yourself, imagine the supportive person chiming in and countering the criticism with several compliments. Develop the compliments, be honest and revel in your strengths, celebrate them instead of being uncertain or embarrassed. Commit these compliments to memory so that you can respond with them often.
Brown encourages us to identify the patterns that hold us back from living meaningful lives. He also points out several important mind management skills. "Notice" - neutrally observe your experiences for what they are, just observe the facts and the products of your mind (feelings, thoughts, memories, sensations, and urges) so that you can have them but not automatically believe them. "Reflect" by being curious instead of judgmental - ask yourself what is causing the response instead of reacting in a self-critical way. Try to see the situation from different points of view, how would your partner, mother, therapist, best friend, colleague see the experience? Consciously "assign meaning" and choose what the experience means based on which interpretation would work best for you. "Pause" and take the time to collect your thoughts and feelings before choosing your response to difficult or anxiety inducing situations.
We all recognize that decisions may involve the rational mind or the emotional mind or both aspects together. Brown cites psychologist Marsha Linehan, PhD, who characterizes the use of both the rational and emotional aspects of thinking as "using your wise mind." Brown encourages us to use the "wise mind skill" by focusing on a particular question (i.e., what is causing this response, is this the right response for me, etc.) while noticing your breathing.
Here is another helpful exercise that helps develop the wise mind: Hone your wise mind through asking the question while doing breathing exercises. Ask yourself the question as you inhale, listen for the answer as you exhale. Even if the answer doesn't come to you right away, the process of reaching for the answer and the breathing exercises give you time to process the question using different levels of consciousness.
The Art of Meaningful Living struck me as both interesting and helpful. I recommend the book in large part because of the exercises that encourage mindfulness and mind management skills. While some of the skills and advice may be familiar, it helps to have them written out and explained, after all, the development of the wise mind skills and mindfulness comes in large part from the practicing of these skills.
Publisher: Synergy Books (September 1, 2009), 128 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author, courtesy of the publicist:
Christopher F. Brown, LCSW, MBA, currently resides in Houston, where he has a private psychotherapy practice. A native of Louisiana, he earned his bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and earned both his MBA and his Master of Social Work from the University of Houston. A licensed clinical social worker, Brown offers psychotheraphy services to individuals, couples, and families.
Brown is a fellow of the Houston Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute and Menninger Clinic and Baylor College of Medicine. He is a former facilitator of support groups for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Greater Houston, and is a current trainer and speaker for DBSA.
After the death of his mother, Brown turned to writing as a creative release to deal with his feelings of pain and grief. He recently joined John Palmer to create The Art of Meaningful Living, a coffee-table book that offers a framework for navigating significant life changes through a combination of psychologically based techniques and provocative abstract artwork. The tools offered in the book are based on principles that helped Brown navigate his own life change, as well as those that he uses in his psychotherapy practice.
About John Palmer, courtesy of the publicist:
Artist John Palmer's career began over a decade ago when he turned to art as a method of coping with the unexpected death of his father. Painting allowed Palmer to release the inner grief, frustration, and pain he felt after his father's untimely death, and is a major factor in his contribution to The Art of Meaningful Living.
Although for the most part self-taught, Palmer has studied art professionally at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy; has studied under Robert Venosa in Cadaques, Spain (the former home of Salvador Dali); and worked with Master Painter Philip Rubinov-Jacobson in the Austrian Alps. His art has appeared in The Houston Chronicle, Inside Houston, The Voice, Outsmart, Prime Living Magazine, Houston Modern Luxury, PaperCity Magazine and on Fox News. His current projects include a new series entitled "Notable Biographies," featuring his collage style.
Visit www.theartofmeaningfulliving.com for more information.
Thank you so much to Christopher Brown, Abi and Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for this review opportunity!