Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from Publishers Weekly magazine.


Self-Help

Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor
By Sarah Ban Breathnach
Scribner

"Women were created to experience, interpret, revel in, and unravel the mysteries of Life through their senses," declares Breathnach ("Simple Abundance"), insisting that women have two extra senses: those of "knowing" and "wonder." Breathnach then works her way through the calendar year, offering tips to women to free their "essensual" selves. Much of the advice (e.g., make your own scented sachets and foot lotions) is rote. At times, Breathnach herself criticizes the commercialization of the sensual. For example, the bath is a "waterfall of delight" that's being "snuffed out by the banality of the self-enhancement poseurs." Homemade is the best way to go, says Breathnach, and even the hours spent preparing various potions are a gift in themselves. On the other hand, she heartily endorses purchasing gourmet fruits, "essensual sets of underwear," silk sheets and other luxuries, since these items also pleasure the senses. Fortunately, the object of all this pampering isn't just to attract a mate. Breathnach urges women to stop focusing on finding a partner and to "learn the sacred soulcraft of self-nurture." While exhortations to "become your own courtesan" may seem narcissistic, the message will strike a welcome chord among women who've learned that sacrificing for others isn't always worth it. At times Breathnach is unintentionally funny she recommends taking Beckett plays to the laundromat to "try on for size being an intellectual." But her occasionally pretentious use of quotations and capitalized references to the Spirit and the Divinity shouldn't stop her fans from pampering their Inner Goddess.

Everyday Karma: A Renowned Psychic Shows You How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Karma
By Carmen Harra
Ballantine

Telling readers to "forget everything you think you know about psychics," self-described "metaphysical intuitive" Harra combines her gift to communicate with the "Invisible World" (honed after nearly drowning in a Romanian river at age five) with lessons she's gleaned as a licensed hypnotherapist, astrologist, numerologist and Kabbalah expert. Juxtaposing her casual, friendly writing style and positive tone against a highly structured framework, Harra, who's consulted with presidents, Hollywood celebrities and European royalty, provides thorough explanations on the levels of karma (past, present and accumulated), types of karma (individual, family and group) and a 10-step Karmic Resolution Method meant to develop the self-awareness needed to "project your own happy future." The tips on communicating with one's spirit guide, rules for a happy marriage and exercises meant to clarify one's true purpose, attract a soul mate and eliminate addictive patterns from one's life do lend an interactive feeling. However, Harra's heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence and her predictions section (where she shows that, for example, she knew "Clinton would almost be ousted from office" and later "disappear into civilian life") come off as self-congratulatory and may leave skeptics wondering if she's only the latest to capitalize on the ever-growing American appetite for occultism.

Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity
By Julia Cameron
Putnam/Tarcher

Touted as the long-awaited sequel to "The Artist's Way," Cameron's latest is so similar in look and format to the original that they could be sold in a boxed set. Previous follow-ups, including "The Vein of Gold" and "The Right to Write" and a slew of little spin-offs, here give way to a 12-week course of encouragement and exercises promoted as an intermediate level of "The Artist's Way" (inviting us to anticipate an advanced volume). At first and for a long way into the book, we encounter the wheel-greasing exercises that worked magic for millions, helping people discover their innate creativity by devising gentle ways around the myriad obstacles that block us (e.g., listing things we would secretly love to do.) Cameron re-introduces the basic tools the daily morning exercise of hand-writing three free-flowing pages and the weekly solitary "artist's date," designed to help us romance our inner artists and she adds the ancient practice of walking as a means of getting in touch with our deeper feelings and truer thoughts (hence the title). "When I can, I walk with friends, noting how companionable our silences become, how effortlessly deep our conversations," Cameron writes. Cameron does indeed capture the feeling of strolling and talking with an old and trusted guide. Her core insights are the same as in earlier volumes, yet her words seem to have grown wiser. She writes about the distractions of success, and about the long solitary stretches "climbing the glass mountain" it takes to bring a large-scale creative project to completion. Her latest book reveals how reaching higher also means going deeper.

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