Recently, I read a book that changed my life. I can say that now about three books; The Four Hour Work Week; Eat, Pray, Love; and Many Lives, Many Masters. Each one, without a doubt, and for very different reasons has affected the course of my life.
I am usually skeptical when a person tells me that a book has changed their life. I find myself asking that person how the book has changed their life. I do this because I have found there are people out there who just hear that expression and repeat it without:
A.) Having read the book, or
B.) Really being able to articulate how they feel about the book so they just use another person’s words (i.e., “It changed my life”).
Either way, I have limited free time, so if I’m going to read a book I like to determine whether it’s really worth my time and money. So to back up my claims, let me explain the reasons I say each one of these books has changed my life.
I read The Four Hour Work Week in late spring of 2008. I was in what I thought was a strong relationship for the last 16 months, but I was feeling unfulfilled in my work life and craving change. I was reluctant however to give up the salary I was earning while working for a prominent consulting company in Washington, D.C.
Although the title can be somewhat misleading (it’s not focused on working 4 hours a week), the book discusses several concepts including work life balance, how to make a living doing what you love, how to better manage your time, and how to have the most interesting life possible.
The author gives excellent tips, tools, and real world examples of how to determine what you really like to do and create a viable living that is in line with your “likes”, how to change careers, and how to work remotely from anywhere in the world while still making your current salary. He also answers any excuses you may come up with on why his techniques won’t work for you. I loved that part. His philosophy - No excuses! Anyone can do it, you just have to want it.
The book gave me an understanding that I wasn’t alone in feeling unfulfilled in my life even though I had a good job and a satisfying relationship. It provided inspiration for me to change my worklife, and gave me the tools I needed to move my life from work-work-work to experience-experience-experience. Immediately after reading it, I started thinking how I could travel/live in Europe for longer than 2 weeks at a time. Three months after finishing the book I decided to move to Europe. This book gave me the inspiration AND the tools to do it.
I read Eat, Pray, Love in July of 2008. Although I had been in what I thought was a fantastic relationship with a British man since January of 2007, I had been going through the process of a divorce from my husband of 6 years since May of 2005 and things were tough for me emotionally. Actually, ironically, the day I read the last page of this book was the last time I ever spoke with the British Bloke.
Eat, Pray, Love discussed the agony the author went through after leaving her husband and deciding to take a year off to write about spending four months in Italy, four months in India, and four months in Bali.
Besides being able to fully relate to the pain of divorce and the need for something more in life, I was intrigued when reading about the author’s travels (especially Italy because I had always wanted to visit). More so, this book changed my life because it royally pissed me off! I was completely green with envy when reading it because it was the book I wanted to write three years earlier when my former husband and I separated.
Eat, Pray, Love was the first book I read about divorce that in the most real way possible talked about the raw emotion involved when your marriage ends, the indescribable emptiness you feel, the deep sense of failure and embarrassment you experience, and the debilitating struggle you go through afterword to redefine yourself.
I simply could not put the book down. It resonated with me more than anything I had ever read. And after reading it, I wanted my own year to recover. I wanted my own year to travel. I wanted my own perfect ending. And goddamnit if she could do it so could I!
In August of 2008 after my recent break up with the British idiot - which meant a second cancelled trip to Italy; the first trip scheduled for my five year wedding anniversary was cancelled because my former husband changed his mind about wanting to leave the country - I made the completely "irrational" decision to sell my stuff, save every dime I earned, give up my career, and move to Italy. A little over a year later, I did it.
My 10 month Italian adventure would have never happened without the tools and inspiration offered by the authors of the books mentioned above.
I recently finished Many Lives, Many Masters (spring of 2011). I believe the greatest impact this book will have is yet to come, but I can say without equivocation it has changed my life already in many positive ways. I am eternally grateful to the author for having the courage to write it.
I also have admit it’s hard for me to discuss this book and its impact in a completely open forum such as a blog because I know that it opens me up to ridicule, controversy, anger, and condescension. But to not do so would be a disservice to the message of the book and would leave an unexplainable gap in how I got from the place I was before (read blog entries Growing Pains from Feb. 2010 and Growing Pains - Part Due from March 2011) to where I am now in the late spring of 2011.
Okay, so let me get this out of the way... the book is about reincarnation. Are you still with me? If so, hold on because, in reality, it’s about much more than that. And you certainly don't need to believe in multiple lives to take wonderful things away from this book. Hopefully I can explain its message and impact without sounding like a complete lunatic.
Many Lives, Many Masters was written in the early 1980s by Dr. Brian Weiss, a prominent doctor in the field of Psychiatry. Dr. Weiss went to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree and graduated from Yale Medical School. He did not believe in reincarnation or anything that could not be scientifically proven for most of his life. That is until he took on a patient he calls Catherine who changed his life forever.
Catherine was suffering from a number of phobias and anxieties that were deeply troubling her and affecting her work. She was desperate and badly in need of assistance. Dr. Weiss treated her with the best scientific treatment he knew how to provide for nearly 18 months to no avail, as Catherine’s health and life was not improving.
Desperate to help his patient, he researched alternative methods of care (remember this is the early 80s) and asked Catherine if she would be open to hypnotism and regression therapy. He explained that, when done properly, a person can be regressed to their childhood to determine the root causes to anxieties or problems that are taking place in the person’s present life. And by realizing those events, the patient can understand the source of the pain/issue, confront the pain, and ideally find resolution through acceptance, forgiveness, and healthful coping mechanisms. Through his research Dr. Weiss found that patients often found relief from anxieties immediately upon the realization of the source of the issue.
Despite remembering in her first session that she was molested by her father, and pushed off a diving board into deep water when she could not swim, Catherine’s anxieties/fears did not abate. Dr. Weiss was confused and asked if she would be open to trying hypnosis again. Luckily she said yes. This time, after she had been hypnotized, he started the session by saying something like, “Okay let’s go back to the source of this phobia”.
It was then that Catherine started talking about her life during the time of the Great Pyramids in Egypt! She described her clothing and the things from that life in great detail. Dr. Weiss was confused and in disbelief, but he continued the session to see where it would go. Catherine was able to recall the time of her death when she was a slave who was being buried alive in the tomb of her master to accompany him into his “next life”. She described her passing as being pulled toward a brilliant white light, and then feeling absolute and total peace. I'm sure by now, we've all heard similar descriptions from stories of near death experiences.
When Dr. Weiss brought Catherine out of hypnosis, she was able to describe everything she saw with complete detail as to what she said before. Dr. Weiss was blown away, but not convinced the experience was real.
After several sessions where Catherine described former past lives, Dr. Weiss admitted that although he could not prove these experiences were real, he could also not turn his back on what was happening. The fact was, Catherine’s health and life were improving significantly after each session, and he could not find a legitimate reason to stop the regression therapy.
The lives that Catherine described were wildly fascinating and I think completely worth the read even if you don't believe a word of it. However, I want to focus more on the overall message of this book and the impact it’s had me.
After several sessions where Catherine was able to regress to a former life and conquer a fear or phobia in her present life, she started speaking in a voice that was much deeper (both orally and intellectually). Dr. Weiss was confused and through a series of questions was able to gather that Catherine was channeling this deeper voice; that it was a presence that was not of Catherine now, nor had it ever been. The voice described itself as a “Master” or a soul that has reached a high level of spirituality.
Catherine never remembered any of the conversations that Dr. Weiss had with a Master or any other soul that was not her own. Additionally, she did not like to hear the audio tape Dr. Weiss made of the sessions because they freaked her out.
After a series of fascinating encounters with the Masters that Dr. Weiss describes in the book and subsequent books (even if you don't believe them) he is able to paint a picture of an afterlife (which I won’t describe because I don't want the good I took from the book to get lost in an argument of religious dogma) and provided an overview of the core lessons we must learn in order to advance our spirituality. The core lessons that each soul needs to master are summarized below:
• Love - The book describes love as the purest and most important thing to master. It’s described not as an abstract concept but an actual energy or spectrum of energies.
• Compassion - sympathy for the suffering of others
• Empathy - the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties
Other Messages (Some of these should sound VERY familiar if you are presently or were raised in a Christian-based faith):
• It is wrong to kill for any reason.
• Our soul and spirit last forever, they are immortal. Only the human form is temporary.
• Every human being is divine. Every human being has worth.
• Souls are reunited with one another in the spiritual plane. (It’s much deeper than this, but again, if you are curious you should read the books).
• Everything must be balanced. Co-existence and harmony have been mastered by nature but not by humans.
• We are on the earth to learn. We never stop learning or growing in this life or in the spiritual plane.
I know many Christians could think this message is blasphemy or evil because it does not come with all of the dogma of most major world religions, but if you listen to the messages of the book (or series of books) with a truly dispassionate heart and mind, it is the same pure message that is taught in most organized religions of the world. However, this message is without all the hypocrisy that comes with organized religions that, in so many ways, have distorted the pure message over time for whatever (moral or unmoral) reason.
Quite simply, this book has restored my faith in something bigger (which was no small accomplishment). Ridicule me, roll your eyes, or smile over the lessons. Either way, I feel whole again and I’m thankful that I have opened myself up to concepts that may be a bit unconventional or opportunities that may not be the norm. But then again, if you know me at all, I believe you would not be surprised by my openness to these concepts, as I am a bit unconventional and quite honestly not all that normal.
Despite me feeling a little weird admitting this to anyone and everyone who may read this blog, Many Lives, Many Masters has reminded me about what is important in my life, about what I want to focus my energy on, and about how I want to keep growing as a person. Because of this book I feel empowered to move on to the next phase of my life as a stronger, more balanced, more inspired person.
It never ceases to amaze me how a book - the simple thoughts or experiences of another human put into written word - can make such an impact on the lives of others. So here’s my rhetorical question to you, what book(s) have you read that have changed your life? AND HOW HAVE THEY CHANGED IT?