I just finished reading Mary Pipher’s new book Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World last night. It made me sad to finish it – I wanted to linger a bit more, to hang out with Mary just another day. Which, given the subtitle is kind of ironic, grasping being a Buddhist no-no and all!
If you read Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls like me and oh, a few million people all over the world, you know Mary Pipher’s books. She’s written 8 of them now and the 3 I’ve read (including Writing to Change the World) have been really good. She’s erudite, insightful and besides having the type of insights into people one would expect from someone who was a practicing psychotherapist for 30+ years, she has a beautiful, lyrical writing style that I submit came from growing up in the Plains, in Nebraska (bear in mind, my favorite author is still Willa Cather!).
This book is just beautiful, but in such a different way than the other two books of hers that I’ve read. In Reviving Ophelia and Writing to Save the World Mary writes from a place of authority as well as authenticity. While not academic in tone, the books were certainly professional in their approach (especially Reviving Ophelia).
This book is different. It’s pure memoir. Mary is my contemporary, born just two years before I was, and, like me a Midwesterner through and through. She seems so wise and important and, in her previous books, very Professional (with a capital ‘P’) so I was surprised – though I shouldn’t have been, I guess – that she was a wild hippie girl ‘back in the day.’ Married a guy who had (and has) his own little rock band.
I was NOT surprised at her very less than idyllic childhood. For whatever reason I seem to attract a lot of therapists as friends (truly, I don’t seek them out, they just pop into my life!) and I can’t think of one of them who had a peaceful, easy childhood.
But the surprising part of the book was not about her early years, but about what happened to her back in 1994 when Reviving Ophelia really DID become an overnight huge bestseller.
I’m a writer myself, not that I fancy myself in the same league as Mary Pipher, but I did get a book published by Penguin Press and I know what it’s like to write, want to get your words/ideas out there – and waiting for the response. So, I guess had I thought about it much I would have thought “Wow, surprise runaway bestseller – what GREAT fortune!” Not ill-deserved, but fortuna smiling upon her nonetheless.
So the heart of the book – about how that runaway success nearly ran away with her sanity/stability was the most eye-opening, touching and heartwarming part of the book. Heartwarming, not because I enjoy seeing people suffer (I don’t) but from watching someone I admire open herself up to vulnerability. Expose her ‘deep heart’s core’ (as Yeats says), show us all her human-ness – not just the greatness we see in her writing (for that shines through) but her flailing and failing and falling and getting up again.
It was instructive to me how she put herself back together again. Which was mostly by meditating and doing a lot of nothing. Letting herself BE. Being kind to herself. Watching birds. Hanging out. Saying no.
The whole book is just lovely, but there’s a section at the very back (pp. 240-246) called “From Now On, it’s All Gravy” which is just stunningly heart-opening. Listen,
“My questions about my life are all of our eternal questions. How can we best develop our gifts and use them to help others? how can we keep growing until we stop breathing? How can we stay present? How can we be happy? The answers are universal answers: Pay attention, tell the truth, be kind, and find things to appreciate and enjoy every day. Try to learn something from everyone. Be open to wonder. As I read this list, I realize my mother or grandmother could have written it. Perhaps this is what most humans discover by the time their hair turns silver.”
Perhaps, Mary – but most don’t articulate it like you do! Thank you for the gift of what may be your most wonderful book yet! This book is so lovely – buy it for yourself, buy it for your friends, buy it for your mama. And read it, savor it and find some words to help you on down the road.