my favourite buddhist blogger right now is genkaku. here are a few thoughts he has on the phenomenon of self help, and my comment on it.
basically, the question i pose is, who is the self that is being helped, and how many avenues are there that lead us away from the selfish “self” that is sometimes (often?) fed by the self help movement?
the other question that could be asked is, what constitutes help, especially in connection with the self help movement?
it is interesting to note that different people have different interpretations of what is meant by the term self help movement. i suspect that the early history is the same – people who said, no, i don’t need an expert, we’re our own experts.
out of this grew a desire for discussing and reading about important topics in a language that is easy to understand (vs. academic language). these “translaters” were always around. good old dale carnegie comes to mind; for a bit more of the the history of the self help movement, go here.
so in this context, help means help from someone who at least in some ways appears to be a peer. help from someone who is more like one’s self than some distant government person, or a doctor who only spends 4 minutes with you.
that answers the “who does the help come from?” question.
what is the help itself? when i read a book by deepak chopra (which i have done), how am i being helped?
i certainly get all kinds of interesting suggestions about what i might think and act, and how i might deal with my feelings. i remember one neat exercise that deepak suggested in ageless body, timeless mind where the idea is to send one’s breath out way into the universe.
i called this exercise “neat”. have i been helped by it? has it made my life richer, more meaningful, less painful, healthier?
hmmmm. well, obviously i remember the book, i guess that means something. no, it wasn’t a useless book. however, i wouldn’t include it in my list of 100 books i wouldn’t want to live without.
is there any self help book that has helped me (my selfish self or my i-know-self-is-an-illusion self) so much so that i would want it on that list? there are a few possible candidates, focusing by eugene gendlin perhaps, or creative visualization by shakti gawain – i’m not sure. the good old big book of alcoholics anonymous might make the list, too – does that qualify as a self help book?
on the other hand, there are other books, ones that aren’t on the self help shelf, that would definitely make that list. those are books that have made a deep impression on me, books that have definitely helped me live. dostoevsky’s idiot, for example, or hermann hesse’s narcissus and goldmund, seeking the heart of god (co-written by mother theresa and brother roger of taize), cave of tigers about discourses by zen teacher john daido loori, or margot adler’s classic drawing down the moon.
heinlein’s stranger in a strange land and, somewhat amusingly, ram dass’s how can i help. rollo may’s my quest for beauty, mazlow’s toward a psychology of being. german, russian and french fairytales have also had a big impact on my life.
but then reading, understanding and loving books is something very personal. i can well imagine that other people feel just as enriched mostly by self help books as i am by the books that i just listed.
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