'Your Ultimate Life Plan'
by Jennifer Howard
Subtitled: "How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last"
2013, New Page Books
This softly spoken book aims to help the reader to journey from the stumbling block of a wounded ego to their sacred self. It incorporates psychological as well as spiritual practice to gently help raise conscious awareness, promoting self-empowerment and leading the reader towards "a life of integrity, passion and contentment" (p17). The author is a trained psychotherapist who extends her work deeply into the spiritual realms, inclusive of the mystical side of most religions and traditions. Jennifer Howard doesn't promise any quick fixes, but sets out a long path towards transformation over the course of someone's life. Unlike many New Age writers, she doesn't believe that we can change our own realities through self-belief alone, recognising that the world creates limitations on what we might achieve within it. Instead, her focus is to dive within and explore our deeper selves to attain greater awareness and happiness.
The book includes a balanced overview of psychology, presented in an articulate and thoughtful manner. As a teacher and healer, the author attempts to draw the reader towards aspects of their spiritual practice where blocks have occurred. In that sense, the reader is not perhaps a new-comer to the world of New Age healing, but someone who is finding the journey more difficult than they imagined. Although the author recognises that a book does not replace the one-to-one support from a therapist, she is confident that her methodology will enable the reader to become more self-aware, and more able to get to grips with some of the inner psychological problems that might be holding them back.
"Many psychological modalities, as well as traditional spiritual practices, guide you to notice the sensations currently present in your body, as a way to ground you in times of emotional distress. Grounding yourself brings you into the sensations of the present moment, rather than only the memory of the event being stirred up. Noticing your body, and this moment, helps you out of the entrenched, past programming stimulated by this current incident, rather than running the old pattern working on you physically, emotionally, and mentally." (p70)
The 'past-programming' stems from childhood to a great degree, and I felt that there was a strong implication in the book of 'I blame the parents'. Essentially, the ego is wounded through the 'caregivers' in one's early life not really providing the best environment, nor sufficiently shielding the youngster from life's horrors. Healing the ego is a life-long process (p104). This thinking may be true to a degree, but is predicated upon the idea that we need a perfect foundation in our lives to attain all we can be, a concept which I suspect encounters some problems in real life. Like many spiritual or religious teachers, the message is that the bad stuff comes from people or the environment, the good stuff from God.
"When you're conscious of your thoughts and feelings, following your thoughts back can help you break free from your negative programming and childhood wounding at any time...With meditation you begin to slow your thoughts, and see the layers of thoughts and beliefs that keep a coherent self intact. It takes facing the unknown and all you think is you, to begin unraveling those tightly held beliefs about yourself...Our nervous system relaxes so we can walk into the mystery and settle into closeness with the Divine, God, or the Absolute." (pp190-2)
This becomes an issue when seeking the inner voice to find a better direction in life. Is the inner voice we hear God, or our past-programming leading us down the familiar blind alleys? And what if the inner voice takes us in the wrong direction? Dr Howard argues that in such a case an important life lesson is required to be learned. As a result of this thinking (common enough, it has to be said), there's no way to blame God for getting stuff wrong - it's either the unconscious programming from our rotten past, or a lesson that good will surely come from in the end. My critical mind stumbled over this issue, which I guess is the problem when a relatively contented agnostic reviews a spiritual self-help book. Other readers may not find this as conceptually trying.
The bulk of the book is a framework for "Multidimensional Awareness Practice". Her four dimensions of consciousness are a cross between the four Kabbalistic universes and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the lower dimensions nested within the higher ones. It comes across as a complex system, perhaps because the author is very thorough in her presentation of all the various concepts she draws upon. She creates a model from our common human experiences, and a road-map to extend through into more mystical realms that many people do not experience in their lives.
That road-map meanders through a broad topography indeed. The New Age movement is nothing if not inclusive! The author quotes wise words from many of the world's religious, spiritual and even scientific schools of thought (as a brief aside, care should be taken when discussing Quantum Mechanics in psychological books, as our brains - and therefore minds - evidently operate at a macro, not quantum, level). She also quotes many other therapists, teachers and practitioners who, like her, are well qualified and published.
On the plus side, this provides context and a broad scope of reference material for the reader to consider. The book also highlights how similar in nature the world's religions are at their core - an important realisation in studying comparative religion. Of course, this realisation risks alienating readers whose might consider their faith as the only one of true value. Personally, I think it's a point well made.
On the negative side, the book sometimes feels dry and academic. That's not to say that Jennifer Howard doesn't speak from the heart too, just that the temperament of the book will likely appeal to the more cerebral of the broad school of travellers embarking upon the New Age path to Enlightenment.
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 30th March 2013
Books for review can be sent to Andy Lloyd at the author/publisher's own risk.
Andy Lloyd's Book Review Listings by Author and Title
Andy Lloyd's Book Review Listings by Subject