It’s time to debut a new sometime feature on the blog: Lightning Book Review, quick reviews of about 500 words to give you my bottom line opinion. Our debut is Toni Bernhard’s new book, How To Wake Up, officially released next month. Toni provided me with an advance copy of the book for this review, and I’m working on a longer piece to explore some issues more deeply with her. For now, here’s my Lightning Book Review:
How To Wake Up (HTWU) differs from Toni Bernhard‘s first book, How To Be Sick (HTBS) in a few ways, but the most significant difference is the intended audience. HTBS was focused on people with chronic illness, but HTWU is aimed at anyone interested in trying to find more peace and contentment in his or her life. You do not have to be a Buddhist to follow Toni’s advice (I’m not), but this book does provide a nice introduction to Buddhist principles.
The first part of the book explores the three life experiences that all humans share: we are subject to impermanence and change; there is no fixed unchanging self; and we will encounter suffering. The second part of the book focuses on cultivating wisdom, mindfulness and open-heartedness – the key mental states that can help us deal with the three life experiences.
Toni’s tone throughout the book is gentle and practical. She shares what she has learned, and encourages the reader to try some of the practices she suggests. Toni’s writing feels like a friend reaching across the table to pat your hand and offer advice. There is no preaching or judgment here. HTWU is structured like a path, with each chapter building on those that came before. In contrast to HTBS, this book’s practices are arranged around spiritual principles, rather than specific situations like loneliness or pain. That being said, many of the practices and techniques can be used to cope with aspects of chronic illness, or indeed, any kind of suffering.
One aspect that I found very appealing is Toni’s emphasis on the fact that everyone – even the Buddhist masters – must practice. Every day, every hour, can bring new challenges and mental habits are deeply entrenched. Those practices, such as choiceless awareness meditation or sequential sensory mindfulness, are simple (but not easy!) and intended to be helpful.The reader can adopt an experimental approach, trying the practices that appeal and noting whether it helps or not. Everyone is different, and this is not intended to be one size fits all advice. Patience and compassion for yourself is the first step, and no one becomes an expert or finishes this process.
Life is difficult, and everyone faces pain and loss. Toni says the goal is to engage life as it really is. Wishing for life to be different only increases our suffering. We have to acknowledge how things really are, and then find a path to Let It Be. This is not letting go of negative feelings in some kind of “I’m ok with this/it doesn’t matter” way. Letting it be is acknowledging your pain or difficulty, and finding peace with its presence in your life. Depending on your perspective, this may sound like a lot of woo. But I did not find it to be unreasonable or trippy.
In my own personal experience, the greatest challenge of living with ME/CFS has always been finding the path to emotional equanimity. I am already in enough pain and have endured enough loss. Finding a way to be calm and still find joy in life has been the true struggle. I found many suggestions in How To Wake Up that may help me do that.
Bottom line: Recommended