The Help(less)

Take a moment now to experience what it might be like to claim full responsibility of your life. For just a moment, imagine that if you are unlucky in love, it is because on some level (usually unconscious) you are committed to being unlucky in love.
Excerpt from Attracting Genuine Love by Gay Hendricks

There is no separation between us and God; we are divine expressions of the creative principle on this level of existence. There can be no real lack or scarcity; there is nothing we have to try to achieve or attract, we contain the potential for everything within us.
Excerpt from Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain

I admit that sometimes I get suckered into the self-help section of any book store I wander into. I can’t help it–I’m broken, and these books attract broken people. I’m in my early twenties and my life is like a row of boxes, all with questions marks and frowny faces in them. Imagine, if you will: A box marked ‘Career’. It is a question mark. A box marked ‘Social Life’ is a smiley face with a question mark for a mouth. 😕 The relationship box is a sure and steady frown. 😦

I have read a few self-help books, and I have flipped through hundreds more. I spent one memorable winter with Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain in my bag every day. I would review it each night, take notes, dog ear pages, journal about it. It was also the winter I started therapy for the first time in my life, but that came after, once the winter was beginning to break and so was I.

By creatively visualizing, I was making one final reach for life. I didn’t think that closing my eyes for twenty minutes a day and thinking about my future happiness could actually make that happiness magic itself to me; I just thought it couldn’t hurt, especially considering I was desperate and more or less friendless and alone in a frigidly cold college town. Most weeks my only social interaction would be my Sunday night telephone call with my mother, after which I would usually sit on my dorm room floor and cry.

The things I was unhappy about then are only slightly improved: I still have fewer friends than I’d like, I am still heartbroken, but in a way I can live with. When I was using Creative Visualization as a bible in my cold lonely dorm room, I used to do the visualization practice on my rug, or while I was waiting for tea water to boil. I would close my eyes and imagine my future life. I imagined an apartment with brightly colored walls, (for some reason) a yellow teapot, a sense of freedom, and a boyfriend who was maybe not perfect but perfect for me. We had cats. I had a cute job somewhere and I didn’t feel like the odd-friend, the friend who doesn’t fit into anybody’s friend group, the friend people don’t mind seeing every few months but will never fit into anybody’s daily life. I imagined love as a circle, and I imagined myself in the center of the circle, knowing full well my entire problem was that feeling on the outside of it always felt like a permanent fixture of my personality.

I don’t really visualize anymore, and maybe that is why none of that stuff has actualized for me, but I am a much more optimistic person now. Not to say I am an optimistic person. I’m just more so. It’s basically like saying, about a empty dirt lot with a new flower patch, ‘There’s a lot more life here now.’ It’s just a couple of flowers, but nothing is always more all-consuming than something.

Sometimes I think about the saddest parts of my life and I wonder why I am still sad, but less sad. I know it’s probably the therapy, or the fact that when you get out of your teenage years, your brain grows just that little bit more to stop you from being so fucking crazy. But my heart says: It was Creative Visualization.

My theory is there are two phases of heartbreak. The first is when the hurt/betrayal is fresh. You cry in the shower, you hurt yourself because the hurt is so frantic inside your poor little body. But, in a strange way, there is more hope there, because you expect things to get better for you. Your hurt feels very cinematic. ‘This is act three,’ you think. ‘In the final act, my Dear One appears and kisses me on top of a building somewhere while music plays.’ Phase two is hopeless, mundane, years-old heartbreak,  the kind that comes after you have picked yourself up, brushed yourself off, stopped the bleeding–and you look around, and there is still no one to kiss you. This phase can last a Very Long Time, in my calculation, and you will probably have an OkCupid account that does nothing for you, because you do not want to be The Heartbroken One forever. But sometimes you are.

That is when you find yourself reading books like Attracting Genuine Love. The book is actually quite similar to Creative Visualization. There are exercises in each chapter, designed to help you realize how, exactly, you are sabotaging yourself in love. Then it has you think up all the things you need in a partner, think about all the jerks who have hurt you in your life and what character traits they had that you want to Permanently Avoid. The funniest exercise is when the doc wants you to tell the people in your life that you are now committed to attracting genuine love. Like, “Hi, friends. Just so you all now, I’m attracting genuine love right now. It’s gonna happen.” There is something so hopeful and sad about that, and about all of these exercises, like finding love is similar to learning a skill or getting a job. If you try really hard, you make it happen.

I always sort of believed that love only comes to you when you’re not looking for it. Therefore, I reasoned, I would never find love, because no matter how hard I tried I never left the house without hoping somebody would fall in love with me out there. My heart just would not quit it. It’s comforting to think that maybe if I keep a journal with my every love intention, the universe will offer up some babe on a platter, but that doesn’t seem right, either. (That’s not to say I am not currently keeping an Attracting Genuine Love journal right now, as I attempt the exercises–I am. Like I said, I’m a sucker.)

After Attracting Genuine Love, I read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. Maybe not everyone will agree with me, but despite it’s literary merit, I classify Tiny Beautiful Things as a self-help book. For those of you that don’t know, Dear Sugar is an advice column that Cheryl Strayed wrote for the Rumpus.net. I don’t mean to disparage the column or Tiny Beautiful Things by calling it self-help. I think this book is a true treasure. I cried many times reading it. It is the sort of book, if you are a sensitive sap like me, that will rip open some of your skin and repeatedly touch nerves. (And if you do not suffer self-indulgent sensitivity and navel gazing easily, you will very likely be very annoyed.) It made me want to be a better person, and more importantly–it gave me the hope that I could, that, as Sugar said, “What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart.” It’s not about exercises, it’s about “reaching”, trying over and over again like a crazy person with a crazy faith that you are a person meant for happiness and love. Even if you’ve never had real proof of that. Tiny Beautiful Things is what I was looking for in Creative Visualization and every other self-help book I’ve flipped through. I wanted that comfort.

So maybe I’m done with self-help books, but I can tell you that Tiny Beautiful Things is a great read, especially if you have had heavy stuff you’ve have to live through recently. Also, I just wanted to let you all know that I am currently in the process of attracting genuine love. It’s gonna happen.

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