Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Every Generation Rewrites Itself...


and self help books...

When I mentioned Wayne Dyer's book
Your Erroneous Zones
in my recent
A Transformative Moment post
Barry commented that he felt
that Dyer had borrowed heavily
and without due acknowledgment
from the world of psychologists
and theorists

I agreed with Barry
and suggested that most
books of the self help genre
sourced their ideas from
psychology, psychiatry,
theology and philosophy
and that the aphorism
that every generation rewrites itself
is very true
of the self help movement...

Writers of self help
have been able to distill
the great works of
writers and thinkers,
philosophers and theologians
all the way back
to the time of Lao Tzu
who lived 600 BCE

In my formative years
I read hundreds of these books
including Wayne Dyer
Og Mandino
Depak Chopra
Louise Hay
Gerald Jampolsky
Shirley MacLaine
Thich Nhat Hahn
Eaknath Easwaran
Joseph Campbell
M. Scott Peck
David Burns
Alan de Boton
and Thomas Moore
just to name a few...

and all of these authors
wrote in the self help genre
in a way that was
and palatable
to the readers
of their times

I no longer read self help
Because to me
they all began to
say the same thing...

They say:

that life is simple
life is complex

life is about hard work and goal setting
life is about acceptance and relaxation

life is chaotic
life is secure

life is about doing
life is about not doing

life is about living
life is about dying

life is rewarding
life is punishing

life is about kindness
life is about cruelty

life is hard and inflexible
life is soft and yielding

life is about abundance
life is about poverty

life is learning
life is unknowing

life is about power
life is about relinquishing control

life is about hope
life is about despair

life is about fullness
life is about emptiness

life is about passion
life is about surrender

These self help books reveal
the basic rhythm of life
the complementary energies
that life holds

and above all else
over and beyond
all of these disparate opposites
and seeming contradictions
they teach
the one pervading paradox
and that is that

life is oneness

and they tell us of
the one constant truth
which is that

life is happening

Each moment is new
everything is unique
and interconnected



  1. Good post. My opinion on self-help books is that they depend sometimes on the reader letting them take over what it is naturally theirs. That quote by Thomas Moore is a clear example. Yo have to put it into context. A person who is unemployed, homeless and hungry might not see, or want to see the problem as a mystery to be honoured, but as a hurdle to be overcome. That's why I agree with the last part of your post where you explained why you don't read self-help books any longer. Your feelings definitely echo mine. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  2. Hi Mr C

    I am glad that you are on the same page as me. I do acknowledge the help they gave me when I was ready for their messages... but then one day...I knew I had read enough...

    Happy days

  3. Oh Delwyn,
    there was a time when I read the odd self-help book but very soon I realised that they are mostly trite, repetitive, platitudinous twaddle stating the bleedin' obvious that any thoughtful person can work out for themselves. In fact, the only people helped by the majority of self-help books are the authors, laughing all the way to to bank.

  4. Delwyn,

    I'm sure you echo the sentiments of many here.

    In general, I have never found self-help books very, well.. helpful, but shortly after a family bereavement someone pointed me to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I was a little skeptical and hurting badly at the time, but I read it and to this day I still refer to it.

    Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

  5. Hi Friko

    I had a little laugh at your had the good sense not to waste your $$$
    But I must say that some of them helped to point me in the right direction...others reinforced my efforts, others gave me ideas to work on, and still others gave me an inquiring mind so that I followed up their suggestions...and then an awful lot do just what you say...

    Happy days

  6. Hi Martin

    I am glad you have added this comment...there will be pearls in some of the oyster shells...

    And like many other books, we find a book sometimes just when we need it...and it can effect us profoundly...

    ...and of course there are differing self help books on a continuum from twaddle, as Friko says, to 'woo woo' as I call it (new age way out there) right through to condensed homogenised and food processed philosphy such as De Boton...

    Happy days

  7. hello delwyn, thanks for this thoughtful post. i especially appreciate the thomas moore quotation. self-help books are usually read by people seeking affirmation rather than transformation. as you suggest and friko underscores, they are quite often re-presentations of common knowledge and so take you nowhere. indeed the small handful that have passed through my hands inclined me to move backwards!!!
    better to start with the big learnings you share here: "each moment is new, everything is unique, complete and interconnected." steven

  8. Good morning/night Delwyn...I love your list of balanced opposites...

    I've read my share of self-help books, but I prefer personal accounts of lives lived, experiences of others or historical novels to enrich my own personal life.....Gift From the Sea, Prodigal Summer, Silent Spring, 100 Years of Solitude,
    Angela's Ashes, Bonesetter's Daughter...these and others give me sense of self, who I am and what I relate to in this world!

    Smiles always,

  9. I think of self help books not as works of totally original thinking, but as people sharing how they got to a place, in a way they can share. Different people resonate with different people, so the more teachers we have, the better the odds that someone else will be able to learn from them. If I were to write a book along this line, there is no way I could properly recognize all the ingredients in my personal stew of thoughts. There are too many.

  10. Hi Steven

    well I read many a long while back and they each contributed to my growth in some way big or small and even when I reached the point of not wanting to read them any more...that in itself was a valuable turning point...

    Happy days

  11. Hi Wanda

    I loved Gifts from the aunt gave it to me many years ago....and you have a good point - personal experience is quite different to pontificating and preaching...

    thank you for adding your good points to the discussion tonight Wanda...

    Happy days

  12. Hello Tom

    It's nice to see you again...I agree that we each find our own mentors and inspirations...but sometimes some of these writers set themselves up as gurus and saviours and snare the gullible and lonely...

    I don't quite follow your last thought. Are you saying that many people have contributed to your self discovery and growth and it would be difficult to identify them all?

    Thanks for stopping by and joining in Tom...

    Happy days

  13. I find self help books interesting but to me they never tell me anything I don't know. They never hold the magic key they claim to possess.

    So I never spend money on them but will sit at Borders and read them instead.

  14. Delwyn: Great post. Much of it has become so redundant - to the point of qualifying as drivel. But as a comment I wrote in my latest post, people have to start where they are . . . and if a book can give comfort or redirection to a tortured soul, then it has its place.

    Barry is so right about Dyer. His latest "theft" if from Byron Katie. He has taken her four questions tweaked a word here and there and presents it all as his in one of his PBS programs. Just a little too crafty and self-serving for me.

    You can't copyright an idea and as you say we are all learning from, taking from, adapting ideas from others all the time? I appreciate it when proper credit is given. The best writers always do that.

    Delwyn - are the watercolours your work? They are lovely. More of your many talents!!

  15. I always try to remember it's all about the journey, as once you get to the top of the mountain, there's only one direction to go!

  16. Delwyn, I had to laugh. You've summed up the self-help genre perfectly and with much wisdom. You're a true bodhisattva and I bow to the life force within you. Blessings!

  17. They are good for propping open a door or raising the height of a small lamp on the side table.

    Life just is. Live it like it is the only one you have. Every day you make choices. If things are not going well in your life then make better choices.

  18. Great post! I do still enjoy self help books, and inspirational writings, however they come! I think, as mentioned by commenters before - I enjoy the feeling of affirmation, although admittedly often I do get the feeling that I am either reading the same thing, or the complete opposite at times!

    Like Bonnie, I was also wondering about the lovely watercolours?

  19. Wow this is interesting! I never think of Joseph Campbell as a self help writer - only as a philosopher and scholar of myths, whereas I never think of Deepak Chopra as anything other than a self help writer with perhaps a fragment of snake oil salesman. So your definition is broad and inclusive.

    All books are, to me, guides or beacons that show me how to live, whether they show how NOT to do things or how best to do them, whether the books are fiction or science or art.

    Very cool and provocative post. Thanks, Delwayn!

  20. Hello Delwyn,

    You and your blog are such a treasure. You always get right to the heart of something. I love that about you.

    This is a wise and wonderful post. And I am so glad I found you and your blog earlier this year!

    I hope you are having a
    Happy Day!

  21. The duality of life, the balance of opposites. All is one.

  22. During my initial spiritual search, which began many years ago, I read many of the ones on your list, and hundreds more. But it wasn't just the self-help, I read books on the mind and how it works, how the brain works, etc. I think of it as my educational base. Some of the information gleaned during those days has stayed with me, and some has not. Some was trite, some very meaningful. But most people have to start somewhere. We live in a time where people want to have an understanding of this thing called "life", but would prefer it in a 20-second sound bite. It takes time to find your path. There is no one answer for all, we all process information differently, thus the reading or searching.

    I now read Eckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron, Gary Zukove and a few others, for my "refer to" books on the meaning of life, but I'm also exploring some of the new breakthroughs in science - much of which is catching up with spirituality. First person accounts are always interesting. Anyway, sorry about the long comment , but I obviously thought this a great, thought-provoking post. You hit the nail on the head quite often, leaving me to think and ponder. Thank you for that.

  23. As has been noted by others, I also found self help books to be often repetitive drivel. Though in some, there were nuggets to treasure, and in some I would weep with recognition. Maybe that is what we need - to be recognized, to share, to know that we are not alone.

    I agree with Nancy about wanting answers in a 20 second sound byte - or in a concise phrase. I find I have become attracted to certain prose (as you have eloquently illustrated your post with) and now, with the simple complexity of the internet can find out more about the author or their works. And that I find most inspiring (at the moment). Also a bit distracting, but in a good way.

  24. We read to discover truths we seek. Sometimes we find the answers in literature, films, songs, spiritual meditation. Sometimes, in self help books.

    We never stop searching because we are all on a journey that both amazes and puzzles us.

  25. Hi Delwyn~ I absolutely love your illustrations--they look like wood cuts from the Middle Ages or Renaissance! (but I noticed your signature) You put something together for me that was a real eye-opener. I'm always assuming that the best way to think is in polarities, and I really agreed with the dichotomies you expressed. And then you said once you've identified these opposites, flip them over and over, see the oneness, understand the whole. I think books mean different things to you at different times. I went through body balancing, reflexology, aromatherapy, yoga, kundalini, Catholocism... and what I found was once you have the different elements, the parts do come together and cohese and become one. Om, Margaret

  26. Hi Liss

    Perhaps they can serve to remind us of the hidden inner truths we all have access to...

    No the key is always in our possession...but they may give you a clue where to find it...

    Happy days

  27. Hello Bonnie

    That's right any book may trigger something in us...a little epiphany...and allow us to shift our ways of thinking or acting...

    The beautiful paintings I cannot claim alas...they are ancient Chinese artworks from my Tao set that I posted on once before...

    Thanks for your helpful comments Bonnie...

    Happy days

  28. Hi GW

    yes I agree, it's a few steps at a time bit the view improves with each step...

    Happy days

  29. Dear Marion

    you are a sweetie.. and I love your company...thanks for brightening up the morning...

    Happy days

  30. Hi Lori

    I have learned a lot from these books way in the past and maybe I'll find a gem or two in the future...I am just not compelled to look on those shelves any more...

    Like you say I am living my life now using the knowledge I have amassed from living and reading and sharing, and that experience day by day permeates into some kind of wisdom...

    Happy days

  31. I read a couple of comments and Friko said it all for me.

    I, too, read a couple of self-help books decades ago and decided that they made it all too complicated - life, that is.

    Delwyn, you said it, 'life is happening now'.

  32. Hi Karen

    I think we read enough, then we need time to digest it, to assimilate it and then to act on it...otherwise it remains in the realm of platitudes and aphorisms...

    I also think that we all need may be a book, or a poem, an image, a prayer, a rosary, a meditation or affirmation, or a view, or simply nature...that reminds us of who we are, and how to be...

    thanks for joining us this morning Karen

    the gorgeous watercolours are ancient Chinese from my Tao set...

    Happy days

  33. Hi Reya

    I wondered if anyone would pull me up on Campbell and I deliberated over including him, but came to the conclusion that he does distill myth and stories and ancient wisdom in a way that is palatable to this generation therefore he fits my definition of this genre...

    I agree that we often need to read a lot of dross with truths mixed in and we need to allow the unconscious time to work on sorting through it all and gleaning the gems...

    thanks for your additions today Reya..

    Happy days

  34. Oh thanks Angela

    I am one who likes to cut to the chase, I try not to obfuscate and attempt to be succinct...I think it comes from my somewhat reclusive nature...I am not fond of socialising - I don't enjoy small talk - but the upside is that I can hone into a subject and lay it bare...

    I am glad that you found me too and that we can share...

  35. Hi Ellen


    but the road to that realisation may be littered with self help books!

    Happy days

  36. Hi Nancy

    Yes being a counsellor I too have a study filled with psychology and therapy text books.

    You have made a very good point - the part of us that likes instant gratification is pandered to by the SH writer who offers instant illumination in the price of his book...

    I like to think of all the books I have read as seeds. Some I see germinating immediately, in fallow fertile soils, some I see the results of after a period of time when I have done the work required to prepare the garden, and some still lie dormant waiting for the right conditions to burst into life...

    Thank you for your valued comments Nancy, never apologise for helping me out with and contributing to these discussions...I love them...

    Happy Days

  37. Hello there Violet

    Good point Violet, that these books offer us a feeling of belonging - of shared experiences...

    We love to have little phrases as reminders and the good writer has an ability to condense his ideas into a pithy kernel which we can carry with us...and derive pleasure from and are reminded to live our lives in accordance with a valued premise...

    Happy Days

  38. Hello Rosaria

    Very true - we never know where we are going to find a 'truth' or a glimpse of illumination from...

    However do you think there comes a time when we allow those gems to come to us instead of actively searching them out...

    Happy Days

  39. Hello Margaret...

    The lovely prints are from ancient Chinese collections and depicted on my Tao set of cards that I wrote about once before.

    (I should have not added the signature which goes on as a default when I play with has confused you)

    I agree never know just where the treasure lies and sometimes we search through all sorts of places and types of dross but that is valuable too - we learn where not to spend our time, we learn more about ourselves and we are permitted to change our minds...I love that...

    People have said to me in the past that I become interested in a subject - focus all my energies there and then I will change... as if it was a a negative thing... But I see it as a very positive move forward, why stay with the same when it doesn't offer you any challenge or new insights or joy... I think I must have a strong streak of the adventurer or explorer in my archetypes...

    thanks for your interesting comments Margaret

    Happy Days

  40. Would you classify, say, Lao Tzu or the Buddha as a self-help practitioners? I think I would. Just a really super skillful ones, able to keep people buzzing for 2500 years.

    There's a place beyond not wanting to read more self-help titles, and it seems you've arrived: living inside the mysterious and wondrous NOW.

  41. Hi Alaine

    some of us pick up gems from them at times when we need inspiration, some of us find them mumbo jumbo, and some find their contents commercially oriented...

    We pick and choose as we see fit and at the whim of our needs...

    Like you Alaine I'd rather now immerse myself in the now...
    Thanks for your comments today...

    Happy Days

  42. Hi there Dan

    I think I would class them in that group because they have the skill to condense difficult and complex mysteries and concepts into a form that we can resonate with and learn from...and I agree they would join that group of elite dispensers of mystery and life skills...

    I hope that I have arrived ... because I have stopped looking..and it feels pretty good to me right here, right now...

    Happy Days

  43. I read lots of fiction and have enjoyed Joseph Campbell, but I haven't otherwise read much self-help. I love your distillation, though. And I agree that those books often seem to say whatever a person is ready to hear at a given time. We read ourselves and our pre-conceived goals into them, I think.

  44. Hello Janie

    Yes it works both ways I think...when we have a certain readiness we are open to new ideas and suggestions and also when we need a change we can see ourselves reflected in the book's contents...

    thanks for adding your ideas today...

    Happy Days

  45. I really enjoyed your summary of what self-help books are all about! I may have read one or two when I was a teenager but I don't read them anymore--they can't tell me anything that I already don't know (even when I am not ready to accept that what I know...)

  46. Hello Jelica

    I think that what we know becomes apparent when we are ready or when life's circumstances insist that we look more deeply...

    Thanks for dropping in Jelica

    Happy days

  47. Finally realizing that life is happening now was a key point in my life. Why spend now worrying about the past or future? Rather, be here now. I don't always succeed but it's a good way to try to live.

  48. They do all say the same things...but I'm grateful that people have taken those principles and put them into words...there are times when others need to read them, to understand them and if these people bring peace, comfort and reflection to others then I'm all for it. I've used a few of these a time or two myself!

  49. Hi Sherry

    I agree, sometimes someone can encapsulate an important concept or principle in a way that we find very easy to digest...the trouble comes when is becomes too simplistic...or formulaic...

    Happy days

  50. Hi KB

    it's a good philosophy to have as a day to day modus operandi, there are times however, that in order to understand ourselves better we need to look at the past so that we can change the future...

    Happy days


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.