Posted by: Michael George Daniel | December 8, 2009

A Review of Carolyn Myss’ New Book, “Defy Gravity”

The topic of this book is essential. It is exactly the right subject matter; the question of bridging the realms of personal growth, healing and wellness, and saving the planet. This is what needs to be done in the world today. I have the greatest respect and gratitude for Myss for having attempted to elaborate on this theme.

Respect for the work is initially grounded in the first paragraph of the forward, written by Andrew Harvey. “What is also remarkable and inspiring about Caroline as a writer, teacher and person, is that she is continually reinventing herself, constantly pressing forward to a more and more all-encompassing integration of mind, heart, body and soul. For her, this search for the unified force field of truth is never a purely individual one, it takes place in the context of an urgent and radical confrontation with our world crisis that is now threatening the survival of the human race and much of nature, and is is born out of a passionate desire for planetary as well as personal healing.” This pithiness, though, does not carry through the book because of some religious overtones, somewhat awkward, dogmatic organizational structure, and insufficient development of the theme and urgency surrounding the context of our rapidly changing world.

Harvey goes on to say, “No one has a fiercer sense of “divine paradox” than Caroline-and she makes it clear, that she knows that our modern dark night is potentially the crucible of a birth on an unprecedented scale of healed human beings aligned consciously with cosmic grace…”

But it wasn’t clear to me that ‘no one has a fiercer sense of “divine paradox”‘, or that she really hit the mark with regard to the crucible of birth that is happening in the world – or for that matter, the true nature of cosmic grace. In other words, she went into a lot of detail about personal healing, but didn’t develop the connection with the collective that is the key ingredient to the essential nature of the book.

One might add that, while the potential for the much finer world Harvey alludes to is available, the window of opportunity may be closing rapidly and there is no guarantee that we will pass through it to any degree. Of course the truth is most usually between such extremes and there is always reason to hope – the human race may not fail altogether, but to ignore the reality that it could is a mistake. To equate personal healing with the Great Turning currently unfolding is to explore the profound paradox and mystery of the duality of the situation. The brilliant opportunity before us collectively is an aspect of the potential for catastrophe, which is in turn the seed for a new realm. There is urgency here. This interface between personal and collective healing is a rich chasm of possibility, but Myss’ success to date with her special, tough yet compassionate perspective seems to constrain her from exploring this potential as much as it positions her to pull back the veils of our rationality to expose it.

Writing about unimaginable realms that bespeak an experience beyond our conscious minds using the tools of rationality represented by words, is no small feat. So you can not fault someone for trying. But it is hopefully serving to shine light on the areas that seem ripe for exploration next. This book is about spiritual things beyond reason – described with words that are themselves tools of the mind. To articulate with words that which is ineffable is oxymoron-ic, but it is nearly all we have at this stage of the game.

The task of writing a book involves creating an organizing framework, for the book must ultimately begin, proceed and end. Myss organizes the book variously with five ‘truths’ that represent chapter headings, and seven ‘passions’ and seven ‘graces’ inside of two of these chapters. This organization feels dogmatic. In fact, another reviewer commented that she felt as if she had gone full circle from traditional Christianity to new age beliefs and back to Christianity. That’s an assessment with which I concur.

So these issues of which I am critical are distracting. But the book is not devoid of illustrating with significant value mankind’s higher, collective potential. The need to transcend our overly emphasized reason in order to reconnect with the web of life and the cosmos is well presented in Chapter 1. In Chapter 2, Myss tackles forgiveness and our need to know the reasons why things happen. This concept is very powerful with regard to letting go of our need to know in order to step into healing, both individually and collectively. In this chapter there is a section titled ‘On The Global Scale’, but unfortunately it only addresses our personal response to global atrocities and doesn’t yet describe the potential for our collective response. One presumes this will follow in subsequent chapters, but it doesn’t and is, thus, the basis for the corresponding criticism.

Chapter 3 deals with the very important concept of meaning and purpose and their relationship with an authentic, healing life. Suggested as a kind of quest, moving into meaning and purpose becomes a vehicle for increased power. This discussion about power is pertinent and foreshadows parts of Chapter 6 discussing the idea of congruence. Yet, I personally wish there was a word other than ‘power’ to describe the magnitude of our access to life energy in any moment. Power connotes much of what is wrong in our dominance-oriented world and is thus a tricky word and subject. While Myss’ intention, as is the book’s, is superb – uplifting and serving, this chapter leaves unexplored the possibility of meaning and purpose being both more than just an intensely individual experience, and something much closer and accessible to us than the idea of a quest suggests. As physical beings connected to each other and the earth through myriad sensual ‘web-strings’, we are always equipped to step into meaning and purpose. Must we search energetically for it, or can we simply open to it? Moreover, is this really just a personal issue for which I have sole discretion to direct any success at accessing greater amounts of life energy? Or is there a connection between the life energy available to me and my level of congruence with the context, the living cosmos? It is this powerful connection that seems to represent, again, the lost opportunity of the book. If it were not so essential to the task at hand, it might not even justify mention. Yet if we are to ascribe to books the power to change the world, they must begin to better articulate this story.

Not to belabor the point, but it is this idea of transmuting our understanding of power – the application of energy in a dominance hierarchy where conflict and resistance continually drain away power – to an new understanding that equates coherency and collaboration almost paradoxically with the availability of power – that is the essential element of saving ourselves both individually and collectively. The book that is able to deliver this idea understandably holds great promise for changing the world.

Chapter 4 goes to process, correctly pointing out one essential element of healing, the removal of protective layers of denial. Characterized as the Seven Passions, modeled after the Seven Deadly Sins, this chapter feels the most dogmatic. Again, this is tricky stuff. To open to our deepest desires as they manifest as so-called passions is to reveal our authentic energies. It is a fine line between recognizing these energies and interpreting them as things that need to be repressed. The words used in this chapter like pride, avarice, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth resonate with a repressive mindset that conflicts with the book’s more enlightened mission. In Chapter 5, Myss outlines what are called the Seven Graces. As with the Seven Passions, she aligns her model with the seven chakra system. While I personally love the chakra model for understanding our potential levels of consciousness, in the context of all the other Truths and Laws in this book, this technique feels forced. Moreover, the Seven Graces, as inspirational as they are, Reverence, Piety, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Knowledge and Wisdom all lack a reference to an essential aspect of being a living, breathing human being: coherent action. So for all the effort, we remain stuck in our head and the essential mission of the book to connect our personal healing with earthly sustainability is not realized.

In Chapter 6, Myss lays out five mystical laws. Again this sense of self-created dogma creeps in and one thinks, ‘where is she getting this from?’ Yet, it is in this chapter that she express a most mysterious and powerful idea that I hope continues to be deepened and articulated by spiritual writers. It is the concept of coherence or congruence. The fifth mystical law, she tells us, is ‘Maintain Spiritual Congruency’. “…one way of describing your goal is to say that you want to become a congruent human being.” “…in essence you are congruent when your beliefs match up with your everyday actions and your spiritual practice.” For me, this is the heart of the matter and there seems to be a lot more book here than is needed to get to this point. On page 195, she says, “You maintain congruence by honoring the spiritual truths that you have consciously made a part of your interior life. Only you know what you believe to be true about your purpose in life and what qualifies as real or illusion for you. Once you make those choices, compromising them is an act of self-betrayal…”

This is a high point of the book that brings into even starker relief the missed opportunity to illuminate the great power, richness and satisfaction of getting congruent with the living earth and our sensual connection with it that would have filled in that sorely missing piece of the puzzle: the unfinished bridge between individual healing and a sustainable world. Alas, we are left to figure this out for ourselves as part of our conscious effort to live consciously. It is admirable to leave this up to the reader – sort of a libertarian approach to the subject – but, the absence of this deeper elucidation conflicts with the stated purpose of the book. One the one hand, that is disappointing. On the other, it leaves open the desperate need for someone to fill — with a book of their own. Anyone?

This book is quite rich. While trying to reflect a multitude of personal responses to it with this review, I want to wholeheartedly acknowledge the great wisdom that comes from Myss’ facility with words about the subject. You could read the book over and over and learn something about yourself and your own beliefs, and have insightful epiphanies, each time. From the last chapter: “Live as if you were liberated from ordinary thought, beyond the boundaries of logic and reason. Be bold in your decisions and creative and imaginative in your thoughts. Think and live with the soul of a mystic, seeing the world as a field of grace in which you walk as a channel of light. Live these truths. Become these truths. This is your true highest potential.” Myss reconnects with the book’s mission at the very end: “Make bold, outrageous choices. Live as though you have the power to change the world-because you do.”

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