Although she aims to help readers explore the depths of their own hearts by using an "illustrated discovery journal" (a collage of images and text meant to express the tastes and strivings of readers' authentic selves), the real power of this work, despite some workaday writing and concepts, lies in the unpretentious sincerity and raw immediacy of Ban Breathnach's many variations on the assertion that "At the end of the day, or at the end of a life, all we have is ourselves and love. And if we love ourselves, truly, madly, deeply, all we have is all we need." Writing not as a guru but as a friend who has learned to cherish her past, Ban Breathnach will galvanize her wide readership to believe we were all put on earth for something more than indifferent marriages and discarded dreams. Serving up self-worth and "repose of the soul" as the most priceless of attainments, she is a friend indeed.
Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Selfby Sarah Ban Breathnach, Sarah Ban Breathnach
From the author of the bestselling "Simple Abundance" comes a provocative and powerful life "bible" for women around the world. In this insightful and eloquent book, Sarah Ban Breathnach explores the nine stages necessary to living authentically: Sensing, Surviving, Settling, Stumbling, Selling Out, Starting Over, Searching, Striving, and finally, Something… See more details below
From the author of the bestselling "Simple Abundance" comes a provocative and powerful life "bible" for women around the world. In this insightful and eloquent book, Sarah Ban Breathnach explores the nine stages necessary to living authentically: Sensing, Surviving, Settling, Stumbling, Selling Out, Starting Over, Searching, Striving, and finally, Something More.
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Our Authentic Lives
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness ...
Human beings, as far as I can tell, seem to be divided into two subspecies -- the resigned, who live in quiet desperation, and the exhausted, who exist in restless agitation. The quiet and resigned believe that our time on this Earth is random, a roll of cosmic dice, completely beyond our control. You know these folks when you hear them; their sighs speak volumes.
The rest of us--the restless agitators--sense that there's got to be Something More to why we're here, something other than discovering what money, love, and sex have to do with the Meaning of Life. We grow our own organic vegetables, take our vitamins, drink mineral water, meditate, start study groups. We work out five days a week, treat ourselves to low-fat sorbet the other two, and then wonder why we're perpetually cranky. So what's the rest of it? we want to know (preferably by the end of the afternoon). This question distracts and disturbs us and keeps us worn to a raveling.
But then, perhaps figuring out what money, love, and sex have to do with the texture and truth of our lives is the rest of it. Certainly the little face staring out from a vintage black-and-white photograph of me as a two-year-old seems determined to find out something. Hands grasping both arms of herhigh chair, chin set in defiance, jaws clenched, and dark, solemn eyes reveal an indomitable will to get it right, a will that's unnerving in one so small. This is not the face of an ingenue; this is an old soul in a new body--wary, wise to her own long past, on to the wiles of the world, and having miles to go before she sleeps. An experienced guerrilla, she's taking no prisoners this time around.
I unearthed the photograph after my mother died. Like an archaeologist searching in the sand, I was sorting and sifting through the most amazing collection of paper shards from two women's lives, my mother's and my own--vintage greeting cards, old bankbooks, mass cards, Irish sweepstakes tickets, and old (but new to me) photographs. For all the reasons that drive historians crazy--flooded basements, moves, lapses in memory--there are only a few pictures of my childhood. Most of them are lost. But as I relived every family Hallmark moment I could find, I unearthed myself. I was as thrilled, I imagine, as the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter was when he found the tomb of the Egyptian boy-king, Tutankhamen.
A picture is not just worth a thousand words, it's worth a Jungian personality inventory; for there, in black and white, are my personality assets or deficits (depending on the circumstances and who's making the assessment): strong, dogged, tenacious. Courageous. Steadfast, purposeful, unflinching. Stubborn--a defining trait summed up in a single snapshot.
I wish I'd known from the beginning that I was born a strong woman. What a difference it would have made! I wish I'd known that I was born a courageous woman; I've spent so much of my life cowering. How many conversations would I not only have started but finished if I had known I possessed a warrior's heart? I wish I'd known that I'd been born to take on the world; I wouldn't have run from it for so long, but run to it with open arms.
Flash forward nearly five decades later. A new photograph accidentally captures the same pose. Same heart-shaped face, same tilt of the head, same straightforward gaze, but a completely different aura surrounds the camera's subject. The steely stubbornness has become spiritual moxie; the child of the world has grown up to become a savvy innocent. The wariness has been transformed into a knowing, as in, Relax, I know what I'm doing. Better yet, all the tension is gone; the burden of the assignments her soul chose to tackle in this lifetime has been lifted; she's learned her lessons well. Her karma's been erased, an enormous divine debt has been paid off. Can this be possible? Perhaps I'm looking at the photos of two women related by blood from different eras, but I know better.
Surprised by Joy
The soul is here for its own joy.
The writer Cynthia Ozick believes that "after a certain number of years our faces become our biographies." I hope she's right. If she is, then the woman in the photograph is prima facie evidence to support my theory of reembodiment, a variation on the ancient spiritual principle of reincarnation.
Reincarnation is the belief that, after our physical deaths, our souls are born again in another time, another place, and another body in order to continue our journey to peace and perfection by mastering spiritual lessons. The ancients believed that this deeply personal, authentic journey takes many lifetimes. But once the lessons are mastered, we get to move on, promoted, in a sense, to the next grade.
But what if we're awake and willing to take an accelerated course during this Earthly visit? Why can't we ask Spirit right now to teach us the particular lessons that we need to speed up our journey to authenticity? Perhaps we can reach a state of enlightened reembodiment--here and now--in which we enrich and transform our lives by remembering and reexamining the dreams, loves, and fears of our own past.
Yes, even the fears. I fully believe that we can alter the course of our destiny in wondrous ways when we invite into our lives the very lessons that frighten us most. This is because spiritual law transcends the laws of karma. We are meant to work our way through the fears; that's our karma. But we overcome them through Spirit. When we extend an invitation to meet our fears, even as our knees are knocking and our stomachs are churning, Heaven admires our mettle, applauds our audacity, and gifts us with Amazing Grace. Always remember, never forget: first the gesture, then the grace.
In his book Crisis Points: Working Through Personal Problems, the English writer Julian Sleigh explores the idea of looking at the demons in our lives who make "us shrink in fear and revulsion" as bearers of gifts hidden under their wings. "If we challenge them and make them yield up their gifts," he says, "they will be satisfied and will fly away, leaving us to benefit from what they brought."
Regardless of how we choose to look at our fears--whether we have caused our own problems or are simply caught in the snares of others', whether we are blindsided by a sudden crisis or have been running from one for a long time--Sleigh reminds us that we only have three choices:
1. Ignore it and hope it will go away. It won't.
2. Try and live with it. Not forever.
3. Look for the gift within our fear and benefit from it. When we do, we emerge on the other side of life, surprised by joy.
"Be joyful," the poet Wendell Berry encourages us. "Because it is humanly possible."
When the Student Is Ready
If you can learn from hard knocks, you can also learn
from soft touches.
Our spiritual lessons are the myriad life experiences that come our way, especially the ones we don't understand. Our masters are soul-directed events.
Soul-directed events push us past the perimeter of comfort and the safety of old patterns. Soul-directed events defy logic and ridicule reason. But soul-directed events--authentic moments--never betray us. It's true that frequently they leave us in a daze or catapult us into confusion. But, as with driving through a patch of fog that comes upon you suddenly, if you keep your heart steady in the same way you'd firmly hold the steering wheel, you can make it until the fog lifts. Suddenly you can see the road again. You can see where you're headed. You are returning to your Self.
Reembodiment is not easy; if it were, everybody would be doing it. It's been my observation that only women of great discernment, women with no time to lose or squander, and women who frequently feel too close to the edge for comfort, are the best candidates. Women very much like you and me. We choose reembodiment not as a way out, but as a way to get on with it. To jump-start the process. Do you remember the 1980s expression "Get a life"? Well, reembodiment is how you get a love life--a life you love.
Because the life you get is finally your own, not your mother's, not your sister's, not your partner's, not your best friend's life. And isn't this the miracle you've been praying for for as long as you can remember? I know because it was mine. Now when I look at the photograph of the woman I am, the woman I've become, the woman I always was but never knew, I am surprised by joy and astonished by awe. For the first time in my life I am not wanting, for I have finally come into my own.
So can you.
This is the miracle I would like to midwife for you. The reembodiment of your Self. We need to go back to the moment you lost your Self. For while you were almost certainly unaware of it at the time, there is a place where you veered off your authentic path. Fortunately for us, life's highway has as many on ramps as it does off ramps.
On the way to authenticity, on the way to our soul-driven need to discover Something More, each of us has lived seven past lives, lives in which we have been: starting over, surviving, settling, stumbling, shattered, sensing, and searching for Something More. As in the psalmist's prayer, we must pass through the Valley of the Shadow of discouragement, denial, doubt, and darkness--before we emerge into the light of Something More.
The soul of Simple Abundance was its first principle, gratitude. The soul of Something More is the last Simple Abundance principle, joy. Just as gratitude helped us move from lack to abundance in all facets of our lives, joy will help us as we move from imitation to authenticity.
Many of us confuse happiness and joy. Happiness is often triggered by external events, events we usually have no control over--you get the promotion, he loves you back, they approve your mortgage application. Happiness camouflages a lot of fears.
But joy is the absence of fear. Joy is your soul's knowledge that if you don't get the promotion, keep the relationship, or buy the house, it's because you weren't meant to. You're meant to have something better, something richer, something deeper, Something More. Joy is where your life began, with your first cry. Joy is your birthright.
However, reclaiming joy as your birthright requires a profound inner shift in your reality. Most of us unconsciously create dramas in our minds, automatically expecting the worst from every situation, only to have our negative expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies. Inadvertently, we become authors of our own misfortune. And so we struggle from day to day, careening from crisis to crisis, bruised and battered by circumstances, without realizing that we have a choice.
Imagine this scene. A woman arrives at Heaven's gate with more baggage than she can carry. "Why are you still hauling all this nonsense?" the angel at Celestial Control asks. "You were supposed to get rid of most of it this time around."
"I know, but I could never kick the misery habit. It's a real drag, but misery loves company down on Earth. Besides, if you'd been born into my family, and married the four carbon-based life-forms I did ..."
"Repeat and return, Sweetheart," the angel says sarcastically, stamping the woman's traveling papers. "Repeat and return. Into the Recycling Center until a counselor goes over your case."
"How long will that be?"
"Not a clue --could take a week, could take a couple hundred years. Depends on whether or not you'll be classified as hard-core. The hard-core boneheads get shipped out almost immediately."
"What's a hard-core case?"
"The lowest rung in Divine Devolution. Every time you go back, life keeps getting harder and harder. At some point your core gets shattered, and you hit rock bottom. Finally you look up, asking for help. Maybe even being grateful. You're grateful you're still alive to work through whatever spiritual assignment you brought with you into the world. Being grateful. That's the first step to the path of joy."
Hold that thought.
Something More: A Site Map
What would happen if one woman told the truth about
her life? The world would split open.
To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women.
It would seem to be an easy thing, really, the reading of a book. You pick a book up, open it, fix your gaze, and begin. Well, maybe so and maybe not. As a reader, I'm hard on books and other writers. A passionate woman, I like my men and books to knock my socks off. It's got to be love at first sight. I need to be bowled over by an author's insight, to wonder how I lived before the book explained it all to me, or how the author knew me so well.
In reality, while there is often a mystical bond between writer and reader, the author is just trying to figure out his or her own life, on the page, not mine. But as the Irish poet W. B. Yeats once told an admirer of his work, "If what I say resonates with you, it's merely because we are both branches on the same tree."
So it is with this book. The wonderful writer Katherine Paterson has observed that part of the magic of books is that "they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else's life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn't been able to see before."
This was a very difficult book to write, and there were many times when I didn't believe I had the courage to finish it. Over a year and a half, I threw out three versions. Why? Because when I read what I'd written, there was no emotional connection. I had tried to tell the stories, especially my own, from a distance. But our souls long for communion and connection. I knew what I wanted to say, but I wasn't saying it; I was frightened to put myself out there in an even more honest and intimate way than I had in Simple Abundance. But as Jessamyn West tells us, "Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary."
To be very frank, I was afraid that you'd read too much into every woman's story I recounted in this book and imagine that I was really writing about myself. "Good Lord, are they going to think that's me?" I'd ask. Finally, the page told me to stop stalling and get over it. The truth is that some of the stories are mine, but most are other women's. They are women in the public eye and women who have lived their lives far from the camera's gaze. But it shouldn't matter whose stories these are, because some might resonate with you so deeply they could be yours. They are. They are all our stories.
We are all branches on the same tree.
I've told you before that authenticity pushes us past our comfort zone--it's meant to. Reading this book will do the same. "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader," the poet Robert Frost confided, "No laughter for the writer, no laughter for the reader." I laughed and cried as I wrote this book, just as women laugh and cry when we give birth. And I sense that this will be your experience as well. We are giving birth: to our Authentic Selves. That's why I want to urge you to go slowly. If you get to a passage that's just too tough, save it for another day.
At the end of each chapter are some enjoyable exercises intended to prime your well of inspiration and give you some psychic breathing space between the sections. They're called Field Work. Archaeology is our frame of reference, and as the archaeologist of your Self, it will be necessary for you to do some digging in the verdant field of your past, in order to aid the excavation process. I've placed various Field Work suggestions at the ends of specific chapters because I felt that the questions asked in the exercises complemented the journey undertaken in them. But if you're in the midst of a chapter that's difficult and want to turn ahead to the next set of excavation exercises, go ahead. And if you're a gal who likes to skip ahead, please be my guest. But at some point, if the reembodiment process intrigues you, you'll need to go back and pick up where you left off.
That's really what this book is about anyway. Picking up where we left off on our deeply personal journey to Wholeness.
I recommend that you read Something More once through and then go back and take your time rereading each chapter. There's a lot to think about when we invite the reembodiment process to begin--a lot to ponder in our hearts.
You may be used to reading books that have creative exercises promising "Here's how to change your life."
This is not one of those books.
This is a book meant to be read, absorbed, and then mulled over until it begins to make sense with your own authentic interpretation. And whether you agree with me or not as we have a conversation on the page, please be willing to think about your life in a new way.
Transformation is a slow process, so don't be discouraged. Take as long as you need. Do be gentle with yourself and allow your heart, mind, and spirit to process the stories and lessons you've read before you return for more. Don't worry--your Authentic Self will guide you. And your search will be all the more fulfilling.
I hope your search for Something More is just that--more bountiful, more exciting, more exhilarating, more joyous, more miraculous than any personal journey you've ever been on before. Blessings on your courage. Your buried treasure lies within.
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