A Square-Peg People Book Review
The Joy Diet
by Martha Beck
Menu Item #1 (or Chapter One for the uninitiated) on Martha Beck's list of "10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life" - is one I am very good at - proficient even! I don't even think I need to practice it for the recommended week before progressing to Item #2 because this is what I proudly (and sometimes blushingly) am known for in many circles. OK, enough boasting.
The Menu Item I'm referring to is Doing Nothing. Doing Nothing is praise-worthy - it's the antithesis of Perpetual Doing:
"...perpetual doing, without ever tuning in to the center of our being, is the equivalent of fueling a mighty ship by tossing all its navigational equipment into the furnace."
And Martha reminds us:
"...every ancient tradition holds that from this still core of the self, this infinitely fertile emptiness, springs all that is authentic about you..."
According to the author, Doing Nothing doesn't come easily for everyone.
"If you're one of those enlightened people who can simply stop thinking for fifteen minutes a day, go for it. If you have a squirrel brain like mine, however, an easier option --in fact, your only option-- is to simply watch your mind do its thing..."
She then provides plenty of exercises to help get us there.
In this chapter, as in the other 9 - Martha gives several descriptions (and stories!) of what this Item # will feel and look like when achieved. Also in this chapter, as in the other 9 chapters, her sense of humor makes the book a fun read.
I don't want to give the whole book away here, so I'll pick a couple of my favorite chapters to tell you a little bit more about - but let me tell you: they're all good stuff!
In Menu Item #3 Martha delves deeply into Desires. You could sum the chapter up with these 2 incredible maxims:
"Your True Heart's Desires Are Never Destructive."
"Repressing Your Heart's Desire Leads to Destructive Action."
Martha talks about "The Danger of Desirelessness" - then follows it up with the "Then What?" exercise for getting to the core of your desires.
"You can recognize the activities that will take you toward your destiny when your answer to the question 'Then What?' feels just as sweet--often even sweeter--than the fantasy of the One Great Event."
She acknowledges the probability of pain in the search for desire:
"...like having a frozen limb. It hurts enough to make you scream, all that once-numbed desire coming back to life, and it makes you whole again...full of all the hope, enthusiasm, wonder, and vulnerability you thought you'd outgrown. Menu Item #3 makes you tender, in every sense of that word, open to great pain, but also to great happiness. Live with this tenderness for a while, and you cannot help changing."
There's also a 3/4 page chart that identifies the feelings, basis, goals, after-effects, etc. of false desires vs. true desires. This is particularly helpful if you're new to allowing desires or worried about whether yours are "real" (healthy) or not.
In Menu Item #9, Connection, Martha begins helping us use all the earlier lessons - but now with other people. She talks about risk in "genuine contact" and ways we can avoid it (and includes a funny story about herself, how she avoids the pain). She also makes it obvious you can't (healthily) avoid the pain.
"Judith Hermann, an expert in the study of trauma, writes that while the unit of human physical survival is one, the unit of psychological survival is two. Without someone to connect with, we quite simply can't go on."
Martha gives an example (from her coaching work) of Connection - Doing Nothing with her clients:
"..when I'm successfully doing nothing, I see in each of them a being of such breathtaking beauty and value that I can hardly stand it. This is true even of people I don't like--at least not with the small mind I use in daily living."
Each chapter concludes with a Minimum Daily Requirements list. The list summarizes the chapter - and is a handy thing to copy and keep around if you plan to practice each Menu Item # for a week.
There are 7 other Menu Items. And a mind-blowing poem called "Love After Love" in the last chapter. Martha Beck ends the book reminding us that the Menu Items she lists in The Joy Diet aren't hard to find - or do. And that eventually they will become part of your life. Then she tells us:
"You were born to be open and honest and brave and playful, to laugh often, to love much, to be loved much in return. You were born for joy..."
She's right. Let's go for it!
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