A joyously cathartic and deeply spiritual road trip for readers of Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert, Pema Chodron, and Brené Brown.
Feeling stuck? You’re not alone. In or out of a relationship, job hunting or retiring, in a life transition, or wrestling with Big Questions, a joyful life can feel elusive. After two decades offering motivation, inspiration, support, and problem-solving as a life coach and in her Ask Your Jewish Fairy Godmother column, Helen Rosenau embraces the deeper, more complex struggles of fellow messy humans.
This book will help you find joy in the journey of change. Through stories from her life and advice columns, plus insights, writing prompts, coaching, and cheerleading, Rosenau walks the walk towards self-knowing with you. She’ll help you get brave enough to risk change, toss old crap that keeps you from making progress, and create more happiness in your life.
You deserve more joy. The Messy Joys of Being Human offers you tools to create it—because life will always be a glorious mess and you will always be beautifully human. Are you ready?
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About the Author
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GETTING TO KNOW US
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. — Brené Brown
This story has a happy ending. — Yann Martel
In the Beginning
As I wrote, a friend reminded me about readers' love of authors' origin stories: folks who'd fled capitalism for a guru or discovered new forms of energy healing during life-changing upheavals. What about mine? Not as dramatic but more seasoned. Some of you already know me from my advice columns. To others I'm saying a first Hello. This section is a brief window into my life; more stories are woven throughout the book.
My perspective on change has been honed over time, like a diamond carefully being shaped. It's been a lifetime of living my story du jour, wrestling with my karmic homework, and searching for answers that made me feel more whole. It took me decades to make real progress, though it doesn't have to for you. My story includes long times of not knowing, wrong turns, bad choices, and staying stuck. There was no catastrophic moment. Instead, over months and years, my personal traps slowed and hurt me. Over the decades, they also taught me invaluable lessons.
I'm an energy junkie in the best of times, and a slacker in the worst. I'm thankful for every gift and blessing, but have been hungry for results I wasn't always willing to work for. Osho tells the story of a village woman who became enlightened at the sound of her chapatti dough touching hot oil: Splat, pop, satori! I cannot show you that road. I wish I could. All I can do is show you how I've learned, and hope your path will be shorter and easier.
My spirituality is layered and complex. I'm genetically Jewish, emotionally a pantheist, intellectually a Kabbalist, intuitively a Buddhist, and ultimately a mystic. I care about why we're here and about making the world and each/all of us better and more holy. I'm happiest seeing deer on my morning walk and feeling like the universe is talking to me. Sacred things are a core passion, but I'm also reflexively irreverent, and can get distracted by wine, women, and song. We've all got those seemingly irreconcilable parts, like conjoined Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin in All of Me, lurching along arguing about what to do next.
The bio's easy: I grew up in Philly, the eldest child of Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi Germany. LA in the '70s: grad school, coming out, drinking in wisdom from ancient practices and New Age arts. I've lived in Oregon since '81, semi-reclusive in my cottage and garden, doing my spiritual and emotional homework. My language and metaphors are a mishmash of this meandering path. I'm an inconsistent practitioner of anyone's forms including my own, but they're well earned and I rely on them.
The Dalai Lama, a hard guy to argue with, says it's best to learn from your own tradition. My return to Judaism came on my fifty-third birthday, walking through a bookstore and picking up a divination deck of the Hebrew alphabet. Around the same time, I launched my alter ego at yourjewishfairygodmother.com. I've always been the person people came to saying, Please help.... I offer motivation, inspiration, support, and problem-solving to clients and readers. But columns are brief, blunt advice about short-term problems. You can read a thousand examples on the website. A few hundred words cannot address the deeper and more complex issues we all face. Trying to wrap my arms around those struggles is why I wrote this book.
Chances to grow are rarely easy or fun. My heart and ego have been shredded more often than I like to remember. I stuck with relationships and jobs I should have left. I missed out on better ones because I felt unsure. Now I know more quickly when my choices ring true, and I've learned to trust that knowing. Along the way I learned that I could learn, which is no small thing in itself. I'll get as far as I can in this life, and then pass the baton to the next Helen, whoever she may be. I'm leaving her as many clues as I can.
As a counselor once wryly observed, I have a "rich inner life." I've asked myself Big Questions for decades. "Am I ready?" took up a lot of time, as did "Why me?," "Why now?," and "Do I really have to do this?" My hurdles have been real, not imaginary. I spent decades struggling to change my relationship with food and my body, to create healthy relationships, and to focus my restless intellect. Fortunately, I've always had good friends and spiritual curiosity. I rely on my deep connection with the world of the unseen, which is how I talk about God, gods, guides, totems, and other teachers we encounter, whether they're incarnate or ineffable.
If I advocate any practice, it would be this: Be still and quiet; then listen, listen, listen. If you have just one takeaway from the book, let it be that. You'll still need to act in ways that may require true grit, something you may fear you lack. Remember, it's not an easy jump, to go from Old You to New You. When giant steps happen they're a reward for the times of hard slogging. Keep reminding yourself that the shifts won't occur if you don't begin. Like the old joke about the man who cursed God because he never won the lottery, and is answered by a heavenly, "Did you buy a ticket?"
This I know for sure: If you sincerely move in the right direction, putting one foot in front of the other, something changes. You trust yourself more, and doubt so much less. You know what to do with less hassle or hand wringing. You like and love yourself in deep ways that help you reinvent yourself from the inside out. Whatever you call that, having more of it is what this book and my life are all about.
Playing Together, and Things I Want to Know About You
The first title for this book was The Book of Questions. They're how I think we learn. We face tough ones in relationships, career, and choices of every flavor including time, money, food, politics, and how we treat those around us. Some answers we run towards. Others we dodge. We mostly want solutions without pain or hassle. Most of us are skilled at deflecting, at being defensive, analytical, sentimental, or just plain stubborn to avoid the gnarly truths that are staring straight at us.
Why? Because we're human. And that's a wonderful and messy thing to be. The joys are fabulous. And, as much as I hate to admit it, the non-joys are both good teachers and a marvelous source of more questions. Not just the What the @#$%&!, Why me?, Why now? kind we wail in crises. But also How could something so wonderful have turned into such a massive pile of poop? and What do I do now?
The questions I'll pose are meant to be evocative, not defining. I'll share answers I found on my own journey, and I won't ask you to go anywhere I have not. Always remember, your process gets top billing. If a memory or thought stream calls you, put the book down and pick up your pen or keyboard. I can't predict what will touch you or how. You'll hear the questions you need to. I hope you hear the answers too.
Making progress is all about listening for answers, or at least recognizing good clues. As you journal or share, don't be shy about revisiting parts of your life you might've walled off and hoped everyone else has forgotten too. Confession: I was the person in my sixth grade class picture with her eyes closed. I'm sure the photographer had several proofs to choose from, but he picked the one where I looked like a total dork. Worse, I was wearing the dress that just weeks later would split a seam at a family gathering, earning me taunts of "Helen's getting fat!" If only reality had delete buttons.
That kind of memory may seem small. But we all have those moments and worse tucked away: hurts that taught us to hide essential parts of ourselves, lest they become bruised again. It's time to unleash the grip those buried nasties have on how you relate to yourself and others.
One of my favorite mottos is "Take good notes." I believe in journaling and in shooting yourself an email whenever you have an insight, even at 2 a.m. From now until you close this book, whenever I say something is worth thinking about or pose questions (even if they aren't in italics), it's a please-grab-your-journal-and-think-about-this prompt. If this book is going to be useful, you'll need to do the work.
When the medics haul me off, they'll find a stack of illegible scribbles in my kitchen — insights that seemed urgent in the moment. If simple reminders like Drink more water! actually worked, imagine if you aimed higher, towards emotional and soul goals. I believe with all my heart that the big insights will keep knocking until you let them in. The sooner you acknowledge them, the more welcome they will feel, and the sooner you'll make more progress towards your goals.
According to sages far wiser than me, being human is a reasonably high state of being. Even if you believe in only one incarnation, it's time enough for so many complicated stories: love and happiness, sadness and grieving, laughter and adventure, curiosity and creativity, and a thousand small shames and blames that make the bad times harder and keep us from celebrating the good ones with joy and abandon. I'm always curious about other people's paths. Not just folks who look like they've got their shit together, but the ones I see wrestling with their stuff, as I do with mine. I want to hear their stories, learn about their struggles, and compare notes about what works and what doesn't, and about how foolish we feel when we keep repeating the same mistakes.
We're living in the golden age of story. Not just fiction, but social media, blogging, investigative journalism, public confessionals, and (sigh) even "fake news." It's an evolutionary shift that's changing how we communicate on a planetary level. So pay attention to all the stories: yours, mine, those I'll share, and those that surround us. They all shine a light on our transitions. You can do this work alone, in a dyad, or with a group. Consider yourself invited to post your stories and insights at themessyjoys.com. If your book club adopts this for a read, email me for a video call. If I ran the world, which sadly or luckily I do not, we'd create an active community of healing to propel us all forward.
If you're like the rest of us, your heart's been broken at least once, you've failed at things you'd hoped to do well, and you've been knocked around enough to know life's road isn't straight and flat. Mostly we think we know how we got to now. But when we tell our stories and tropes, we're more spins of the wheel since they happened or since we told them last. Our emotional innards have morphed, and, if we're evolving, our perspective has shifted. Now's the time to let truth visit with less need to embellish or obscure. To smile at an old friend without feeling any big Yikes, not you again!
I imagine us on a plane ride or a long walk, or learning one another the way people used to do, on a pilgrimage or as neighbors, sharing our before-I-met- you times. I'd ask you lots of questions and we would learn one another deeply.
I'd ask you:
Who are you?
What do you want your life to have more and less of?
What sparks you, makes you feel alive, creative, and juicy?
Who do you love, and who loves you?
How would your best friend and your worst nemesis describe you? Are any of those words the same?
What have been your biggest triumphs and worst failures?
What have your friends stopped trying to tell you, hoping you'll finally figure it out?
What gives you drive and courage? What are you afraid of in the wee hours?
The point of this soul-searching is to get us closer to the people we want to become. That may seem to happen at an ungodly slow pace, but there are moments of grace, glimpses of something more beneficent than we'd secretly feared. I hope that together we'll accelerate growth, clear out the underbrush, and make more room for joy, plus whatever friends she brings along. Because the most important thing I want to know about you is this:
Are you ready for change?
What We Believe
I'll go first:
I believe in goodness, kindness, self-care, and boundaries — in all their tangled mating.
I believe we all deserve to be happy and safe.
I believe in sitting quietly and breathing slowly. I believe in meditation, but the daily discipline eludes me. Watching a fire in the hearth or the wind in my garden, I can let thoughts drift by without getting snagged by them. Then I wonder why I ever resist.
I believe in the healing power of art, whether I'm making or appreciating it. That includes images, words, music, movement, cooking, and any form of creativity you can conjure.
I believe in living with awareness and intention. I'm working on that.
I believe the universe is magnificent and vast, sweet and personal, a fabulous playground for the senses and the soul. In my naïveté, it looks like a grade-school picture of space-time winking Hello. I believe we can become our own higher selves, maybe even get to shout a hint or two through the veil, like in the movie Interstellar.
I believe in the lessons. Always the frigging lessons.
I believe it's never as easy as we wish it would be, and that we each get a different menu of chocolate and crap.
I believe in having an active personal relationship with whatever or whomever you believe animates creation, and being receptive to the world of the unseen. I believe listening is always the right answer, or the right way to find it.
I believe we're all just a nanosecond from remembering the answers we need to know, and that the universe tilts toward our best and highest good. If only we cooperated, the world would run more smoothly.
I believe in the power of words: to conjure feeling, create intention, forgive failure, and encourage us to try again.
I believe that most of us genuinely care about becoming better people, even if we regularly hurl invectives at lousy drivers or trip over our glorious imperfections.
I believe in acceptance and surrender, but I can procrastinate with the best. Rules almost instantly evoke my bristly teenager, and, no, that doesn't fade with age.
I believe in our ability to communicate, touch, and love in a manner so transcendent that we can heal together. I cherish meeting the ones we love so deeply we cannot imagine a world without them. And I hate the pain of loss, even knowing it comes for us all.
I resent the tyranny of time and of having to make choices in the same way I resent that kale isn't chocolate.
I love how I feel when I write, and how that sense of being hooked up ripples through me. I believe in regularly giving gratitude.
I believe that by wanting things hard and deeply enough, we can nudge the world in the right direction. And I believe that's not enough, that we need to follow up by doing our work.
What matters to you, beyond the lives and health of those you love?
What shapes your heart and your days?
How did you find and embrace those beliefs?
Are they flexible? Do they limit you?
How do they guide and inspire you?
What Do You Really Want?
We're each filled with so many micro-me's. The ones we've been, the ones we're becoming, and the ones we wish we were or hope others see us as. The "What do you really want?" question is for all of them.
It's a rare person who has nothing in their life they'd like to be different. Most folks answer with a litany of familiar wishes: to be thinner and healthier, have more money, a better job, a sweeter partner, all the adult versions of a shiny, new, red bicycle, or perhaps just "Win the lottery". That's assuming of course that they're safe from violence, have a reliable source of food and shelter, and a means to provide the same for those they love.
Almost all our desires implicitly require changes, and that's changes both in us and in the outer world. That likely means changing how we think about things and how we act. The old cliché about change is that it's usually motivated by a push or a pull. Sometimes it's easy: I want him, her, or it now!!! Whatever or whomever you're lusting after, anticipating, or even dreading to be over, you're like a weather vane in a hard wind. When I taught statistics, explaining binomial distributions was easy. In binomials there are only two options: Yes/No, True/False, or everyone's favorite: When the phone rings, it's either your new true love or who-the-hell- cares. Unless we're trying to beat a bad diagnosis, we're rarely as mono- focused as when we're falling in love.
Even when we're clear on what we want, most of us undermine our professed goals, if only by passivity or procrastination. We're skilled in the arts of self-sabotage: endlessly juggling pros and cons, old-fashioned stalling, and hours of worrying and tossing and turning in the wee hours, fretting about how things might go horribly wrong. Even our positive scenarios often have more emphasis on magical thinking than applied hard work. These old habits are well honed and are our go-to response patterns. Even when they don't work, we cling to them out of comfortable familiarity. I hope you're ready to leave these patterns in your past.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Messy Joys of Being Human"
Copyright © 2018 Helen Rosenau.
Excerpted by permission of Riverview Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Section 1: Getting to Know Us ....................................................................................7
In the Beginning
Playing Together, and Things I Want to Know About You
What We Believe
What Do You Really Want?
Section 2: Our Messy Joys........................................................................................33
Light and Shadow
Section 3: Risking Change ............................................................................................85
Run with Me
Leap of Faith
Crossing the Bridge
Section 4: Learning to Fly................................................................................................137
The Other Side
What, Me Worry?
One More Time.
Feeding Myself Time
Section 5: You, Me, Us ......................................................................................................193
Loves Me, Loves Me Not
When the Bough Breaks
Stripes and Plaids
Say Good Night, Gracie
Come Full Circle/Benediction
About the Author