In a Nutshell: Psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan believes that in America's emotion-phobic culture, people have been taught that grief, fear, and despair (a.k.a. depression) are bad, pathological, and dark emotions that must be shunned, stifled, or controlled. But she believes that instead of being an obstacle to a rich and rewarding life, they can be seedbeds for gratitude, faith, and joy when nourished properly.
About the Author: Miriam Greenspan is a pioneer in the area of women's psychology. Her book A New Approach to Women and Therapy is a landmark in the field. She has been a psychotherapist for over thirty years and recently has focused on the integration of psychology, spirituality, and ecology.
Sum and Substance: The health of our souls and the well-being of the planet demand that we learn how to Attend, Befriend, and Surrender to the commonplace and universal energies of grief, fear, and despair. This ABS rubric can lead to a process whereby these dark emotions are transformed into positive ones. She outlines the seven foundations of "emotional alchemy":
(1) The energy of the dark emotions is not negative energy; it's just energy.
(2) Emotional alchemy starts with intention.
(3) Emotional energy is directional.
(4) Conversely, emotional alchemy is aborted by the fear of emotional energy.
(5) The dark emotions are purposeful.
(6) Emotions live in the body.
(7) Emotions live in the world.
Using illustrations from her life and patients in her practice, she shows how an open heart can work through pain and suffering. This mystical and spiritual perspective offers a viable alternative to the medical model of psychiatry and some New Age literature on healing. Greenspan does a fine job examining grief, fear, and despair pointing out concrete ways they can be dealt with through intention, affirmation, bodily sensation, contextualization, the way of non-action, and the way of surrender.
The most innovative material in the book is contained in two chapters on "emotional ecology" wherein Greenspan discusses the catharsis that can take place when we deal with the energy of the dark emotions as related to the suffering and pain of the world at large. The author concludes with 33 emotional exercises that can be used in "a home course of emotional alchemy."
Quotes To Go:
"One heals suffering only by experiencing it to the full." (Marcel Proust)
"Don't be afraid of your despair. Be gentle with yourself. Take your time with this journey. Let despair guide you to the self you need to birth, the meaning you need to make, the world you need to serve. Let it reward you with a resilient faith in life." (Miriam Greenspan)
"I am troubled by shapeless fears. My God, these anxieties! Who can live in the modern world without catching his share of them?" (Vincent Van Gogh)
"Whole groups of people carry the collective wounds of civilization unbalanced by vindictive bloodshed, cruelty, and oppression. People of color carry the history of racism. Women carry the wounds of patriarchy. Jews carry the scars of anti-Semitism. Kurds carry the history of oppression and exile. Bosnians. Serbs. Hutus. Tutsis. Cambodians. Muslims. Christians. How many people in the world have been spared a history of blood and tears?" (Miriam Greenspan)
"Here are some examples of affirmative beliefs about dark emotions:
• What I'd most like to do with my grief is use it to grow in compassion.
• What I'd most like to do with my fear is use it to wisely serve and protect those I love.
• What I'd most like to do with my despair is to learn from it how to see clearly and live fully in the light and dark of existence." (Miriam Greenspan)
If You Like This Book, You'll Also Want to Read . . .
Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama narrated by Daniel Goleman
Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart by Tara Bennett-Goleman
If You Like This Book, You'll Also Want to See the Video . . .
Fearless (which Greenspan mentions)