To appreciate Thomas Moore's new book, "Original Self: Living With Paradox and Originality," you need first to forgive him.

Moore is best known for his landmark "Care of the Soul," a best-seller that bucked the pray-for-pay trend of other inspiration titles by introducing some iconoclastic views of what it takes to live a life sparked by individual spirit. One might have expected the former monk and psychologist to espouse a more traditional approach to soul building--one that followed mainstream religious or psychoanalytic doctrines. But in a world filled with people "working on their issues," trying to strip away neuroses like old clothes, and trying to rise above human passions like jealousy or desire on their way to becoming clean and light and self-actualized, "Care of the Soul" told readers to get messy. In a society bent on washing the spirit clean, he asked us to see the beauty and power of its dirt.

In "Original Self" (Harper Collins, 160 pp.), the message remains the same, but the format has changed. Moore presents a book of 50 meditations--short passages on individual themes, each illustrated with a woodcut by Joan Hanley. He created this volume, he explains, in the hope it would end up on shelves like his own special bookshelf, one that houses favorite works he goes back to time and time again. I have a shelf like this, too; but, with an almost irrational conviction, I've kept it decidedly clear of pop or pedantic self-help volumes. So, I opened "Original Self" with the predatory lurk of a skeptic.

As I began to read lines like "Live simply, but be complicated," I shuddered. These were Cliff Notes for the soul. But as I dropped my cynic's guard, I found some invitations to delve deeper into the literature, art, myth, and passions that have gripped humans for centuries. And, finally, I forgave Moore for that sin of all bookly sins: didacticism. If he wanted to convey his message to the type of reader drawn to the snippet format, then he has done so with aplomb.

Moore has created a slim, pleasantly designed instruction book for nurturing the soul, appreciating its eccentricities, and letting those eccentricities take a seat at the steering wheel of our daily lives. Readers that want to spar a little more with roughly the same subject matter can dredge up his earlier, more elaborate works.

"Original Self" is based on this simple premise: "All of our problems, personal and social, are due to a loss of soul." To reclaim that soul, Moore suggests that people embrace their "original selves" and mine all facets of the "God-given personality" that resides there--the good facets as well as the pathos that modern society tells us to wash away with psychoanalysis or therapeutic drugs. "Our neuroses," writes Moore, "are the raw material out of which an interesting personality may be crafted. They are sometimes dangerous and debilitating but nonetheless valuable. They are the basic stuff of the soul in need of lifelong refinement."

Once you've found your original self, Moore promises a life that regains its passion and originality. And he claims that this, in and of itself, can help simplify our problems--perhaps by making us regard our quirks as attributes rather than obstacles. But in large part, he sidesteps the issues of happiness and morality.

Take his passage on the great goddess Hera: "She was honored as the icon of marriage and fidelity, yet she was also known to fall into wild, destructive, jealous rages." In one story, "Hera gave birth to a badly formed child, Hephaistos, and was so angry that she tossed him through the air down into the sea." He was crippled by the fall, but he nonetheless grew to be the master craftsman for the world and for the gods.

The moral of the story, as Moore explains it, is that despite his physical and emotional wounds, Hephaistos was able to live a creative life. As for Hera, the revered goddess was guided by her original self; she was a soul informed by all her nascent forces, dark and light. This would mean, of course, that she had reached the state of awkward grace Moore directs his readers to in this book. But what do you do about an original personality like Hera's, whose flaws can erupt with near-fatal consequences? It's a question that goes unanswered in this otherwise intriguing volume, but I bet Hephaistos and his modern counterparts would sure like to know.

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