“Redemption in Indigo” by Karen Lord

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Recommended to me by: reading Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds

I bought an e-book bundle on the strength of this book being included. I tend to read e-books a little at a time while waiting for appointments, so it took me a long time to get through the book.

This is a retelling of a Senegalese folk tale. For once, the cover is not white-washed. I wish I had been reading a physical book so I would have had the ongoing reminder that of course the characters have brown skin. Even with the clearly Senegalese names, I realized after I finished the book that I had vaguely visualized the characters as white by default. I want to change my internal defaults!

I wasn’t sure I would like the book until quite a way into it. At the very beginning, a wife is pursued and appears to be in danger. Then it focuses on ridiculing a man for eating too much, and I’m not interested in watching people be shamed. After a while it focuses on a strong woman (the wife who is well able to take care of herself) and the story hit its stride for me. I loved the epilogue.

Recommended as a thought-provoking story about different angles on duty, where you get to know and appreciate the characters.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Your Resonant Self” by Sarah Peyton

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Subtitle: Guided Meditations and Exercises to Engage Your Brain’s Capacity for Healing

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

This book hooked me with, “The inner voice can be a constant flow of emotional warmth.” Yes please! Where do I sign up? It did take me a couple of months to get all the way through it, and would have taken longer if I hadn’t decided to finish reading it and write an article about it for May.

The book has a lot of detailed information about different parts of the brain, how they work together, and how trauma isolates them from each other. It’s not clear which parts of this are Interpersonal Neurobiology, but that’s in there. There are lots of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). Also lots of NVC (Non-Violent Communication), guessing about feelings and needs, which is one way to express empathy, but not the only way.

Emotional warmth is defined as being met or meeting others with affection and welcome, with a feeling of being cared for, nourished, and nurtured.

Resonance is defined as sensing that another being fully understands us and sees us with emotional warmth and generosity. Resonance is a two-person relational experience, being a “we.”

“We are social animals created to live in groups, like honey bees, ant colonies, or parades of elephants. Our brains are meant to be soothed by other human brains.”

The Default Mode Network (DMN) is the part of our brain that talks to us when we’re idle. It can be warmly kind, neutrally factual, or viciously negative.

We can choose to speak warmly to our attention as we watch it in meditation. We can begin to be warm toward parts of ourselves. We can find a part called Resonating Self Witness (RSW), and have that part resonate with other parts that need hearing and healing.

There are chapters on the inner critic, anxiety, editing old trauma narratives, anger, fears, dissociation, attachment, self-hate, depression, addiction, and community. There is a huge amount of material in the book, and I’m barely touching on what’s there and my responses to it.

The guided meditations that go with the chapters can be downloaded from yourresonantself.com. You get added to a marketing-heavy mailing list, but it’s easy to unsubscribe.

The way that criminality is associated with disorganized attachment sounds like the way some people say abusers abuse because they were abused themselves. No, plenty of us were abused and don’t go on to abuse anyone. Plenty of us had disorganized or disorganizing attachment and don’t end up in prison.

The Resonating Self Witness is similar to Self In Presence from Inner Relationship Focusing. That system’s way of listening and reflecting feels like a better fit for me than the questions about feelings and needs that this book suggests. Perhaps for people who do not yet have words for their emotions and needs, the NVC approach is more helpful.

I like the model that healing from trauma is about getting isolated parts of the brain back into connection. After working through all the guided meditations, I feel like I did learn more about how to be warm in relation to myself. I like the idea that resonance is available inside us rather than being dependent on finding it externally. I continue to be suspicious of the idea that internal resonance is just as good as interpersonal resonance, or even good enough, but I’m sure it’s better than nothing.

Recommended if you’re curious about interpersonal neurobiology and want to spend some quality time investigating and changing how you relate with yourself.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Not the Price of Admission” by Laura S. Brown PhD

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Subtitle: Healthy relationships after childhood trauma

Recommended to me by: a client

Relationships are hard for everyone. For people with less-than-adequate caregivers early in life, the difficulty feels personal, a cause for shame as well as sadness. Laura Brown, a feminist psychologist, kindly lays out the likely consequences of early attachment wounds and repeatedly advocates for self-compassion.

Feminist therapy looks at people’s experiences in the context of marginalized identities that often lead to disempowerment and maltreatment, rather than saying that all the problems are inside the individual. The first example in the book is about a same-sex couple. And they’re not the only ones. The book fairly bursts with same-sex couples, as well as emotionally important friendships and work relationships, not just heterosexual romantic partnerships, in a matter-of-fact, “you are all welcome here” way.

I also felt welcomed by seeing quotes from Jewish scholars and traditions. She translates Yom Kippur as “Day of Return,” day of mending connections. And, even though I never watched it, quotes from “Deep Space Nine,” a science-fiction TV show felt welcoming as well.

There is a lot of great material densely packed into this book. It does not skip disorganized attachment like many relationship books do. It shifts the focus to disorganizing caregivers, since the disorganization is not inherent to the child.

Frozen-in-time child states are called EPs, short for Emotional Parts. The book also emphasizes that emotions are positive and useful, so that didn’t seem like the most helpful terminology. EPs are in contrast to ANPs, Apparently Normal Parts that handle day-to-day adult tasks like going to work.

Relationships similar to what we experienced as babies will have limbic resonance and feel “right,” even when they hurt.

The goal is to mindfully notice when a pattern from childhood has taken over, and compassionately self-soothe and notice what is happening in the present, both positive and negative. It’s okay to be imperfect. We don’t have to be abused or used or ignored to be in relationship. We can tolerate conflict that has the goal of reaching better understanding, rather than causing more hurt.

Highly recommended. There is so much more useful material in the book than I can even begin to summarize.

Available at Amazon.

“A Safe Place for Pearl” by Ani Rose Whaleswan

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Recommended to me by: Ani Rose Whaleswan. I’ve known the author for a long time online, and I contributed an essay to her collection We Have Come Far.

“A Safe Place for Pearl” is a gentle offering of artwork, dreams, and narration, full of hope and inner resources. When there is no human support available, Nature and Spirit step in to support a child going through hard times. (The hard times are not described.) The remembering adult is supported as well. This book powerfully answers the question, “How did you survive? What helped you through?”

Recommended as support for looking inside and trusting what supports you, even if it is not visible to others.

Available at Amazon.

“Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver

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Recommended to me by: Reading Barbara Kingsolver’s other books

This book has Barbara Kingsolver’s trademark combination of vivid characters and complex global issues. The issues in this book are climate change and, relatedly, mass production of cheaply made products that end up in landfills or the ocean. We get a clear picture of rural Appalachian life, including the exposure to unwarranted contempt from wealthier, more educated urban folks. Also including their vulnerability to climate disaster.

I was completely absorbed. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Lost Connections” by Johann Hari

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Subtitle: Uncovering the real causes of depression – and the unexpected solutions

Recommended to me by: Alice

This is a carefully researched, elegantly written book about depression and its causes. Hari interviewed people doing basic research on depression, its causes, and its solutions. He also shares about his own experiences with depression and meds that only worked temporarily.

Along the way, the idea that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin is thoroughly debunked. Apparently scientists never thought so, but it’s convenient for marketing anti-depressant drugs. Which, by the way, studies show only work for a minority of people to alleviate a small amount of depression. When they work long-term, it is largely through the placebo effect. Which is great as far as it goes, but there are serious “side-effects” (main effects) caused by these drugs.

Careful studies show that depression is not an internal malfunction. Depression is a sane response to external circumstances. Hari explores 9 causes. He notes that there are probably others, and that one of them (childhood trauma) covers a lot of ground.

Depression is caused by disconnection from:

  • meaningful work
  • other people
  • meaningful values (as opposed to pursuing material wealth)
  • [ourselves because of] childhood trauma
  • status and respect
  • the natural world
  • a hopeful or secure future

The last two causes are genes and changes in the brain. Genes can predispose us to depression, but external events trigger it. Changes in the brain happen in response to those external circumstances, and can change back when circumstances improve.

He explores solutions that have helped people reconnect. We can find anti-depressants that are social solutions rather than chemicals taken to “fix” individuals.

  • People coming together in community, extending their sense of home not just to four walls, but to the people around them.
  • Social prescribing: doctors who prescribe group projects when needed, as well as surgery and drugs when those are appropriate to the patient’s problem.
  • Co-ops and other ways to find meaning at work.
  • Exploring meaningful values and getting away from advertising that promotes feelings of inadequacy to make people buy things.
  • Sympathetic joy: shifting from envy and competition to sympathetic joy and cooperation. Also meditation and reconnecting with the self.
  • Overcoming trauma. This is a very short section for a very big topic. Hari mentions overcoming shame by speaking what happened and being heard non-judgmentally.
  • Restoring the future. This is another huge topic. Universal basic income is mentioned as a good start.

The only downside I noticed in this book is some concern-trolling about the “serious medical crisis” of obesity. It was jarring in a book where I didn’t notice other overtly oppressive language. He interviews enough women scientists that I didn’t feel the need to go back and count how many women and men there were. I don’t know how many were people of color.

Highly recommended for everyone who is experiencing our highly disconnected, advertising-saturated, chronically insecure society.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“What Remains to Be Seen” by Lauren Rusk

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Recommended to me by: Eric Roberts

This is a chapbook of poems about some of the children’s art left behind at the concentration camp Theresienstadt.

Cover art: The image of Kain and Abel by an unknown artist is from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague. One of the poems richly describes this piece and the experience of the child making it.

The poems describe both art and artist child, the context of camp around the child, and allusions from the wider world. They are conversational, translucent, including author and reader in the experience of looking at art created in the midst of horror.

Recommended as a tribute to the children artists, as a way to keep their memory alive, as way of bearing witness so we never forget, so it never happens again.

An interview with Lauren Rusk that talks about how she integrates poetry and art.

Available at Finishing Line Press.

“It Didn’t Start With You” by Mark Wolynn

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Subtitle: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle

Recommended to me by: a client

The book starts with Mark Wolynn’s story. He had sudden trouble with an eye and, fearing blindness, traveled in southeast Asia seeking gurus and healers who could help him. Finally, two separate gurus said, “Go home and call your mother and your father.” He went home, healed his relationship with his parents, felt much better, and incidentally his vision returned.

The next section reviews scientific research on epigenetics, how people’s cortisol levels and behaviors are affected by trauma experienced by their parents. When our grandmother is pregnant with our mother, the precursor cell of the egg that will become us is already formed. It makes sense that bodies would be prepared for a dangerous environment if the parents experience danger.

The next section has case histories of how an early break in the maternal relationship can cause ongoing problems. Parents are described as an ongoing source of the flow of life, so being estranged from them interrupts that flow. Since the author solved his problem by reconnecting with his parents, everyone should reconnect with their parents. Oddly, for a book about inherited trauma, actively abusive parents are never mentioned.

A person can unconsciously act out a parent’s or other relative’s story, even if they don’t know about the past events. Anything that is hidden can surface inside a relative.

The remedy, in addition to reconciling with your parents “even if you’d rather eat thumbtacks,” is to identify your core sentence and listen for echoes of past stories. Write down your worst fear, and look for phrases that are more intense or resonate with the past. When a family is affected by war or atrocities like the Holocaust, trauma can reverberate through the generations.

We can imagine making contact with past relatives, and respectfully return their feelings to them, and imagine them wishing us well. We can similarly imagine returning parents’ feelings to them if it is not safe to contact them directly.

Accepting our parents is important. As Martha Beck said in (I think) “Leaving the Saints,” it’s possible to accept a rattlesnake exactly as it is and stay respectfully out of range of its fangs.

Recommended as food for thought, as long as you remember that the author’s solution will not be the solution for everyone. Since my family tree has several branches chopped short by the Holocaust, it’s good to see an acknowledgment of the repercussions for later generations.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Night Child” by Anna Quinn

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Recommended to me by: Katherine Macomber Millman

A powerful, heartbreaking book about a woman slowly remembering and coming to terms with the childhood abuse she endured.

It reminded me of Susan Palwick’s “Flying In Place” in the way her pain is visible to the people around her, and she receives a lot of skilled, kind help. For many people, the process is less visible and they receive less assistance.

Anna Quinn has skillfully fictionalized her memoir, with lots of present-time sensory details to balance the horror of remembered abuse. The focus is on recovery, not the abuse itself.

Highly recommended if you want to read about an emotionally intense healing process which clearly shows the lasting harm done by abuse and the hard work it takes to recover.

Anna Quinn’s blog post When Your Memoir Wants To Be A Novel

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Best of All Possible Worlds” by Karen Lord

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Recommended to me by: boxofdelights

From the back cover: “Karen Lord has been a physics teacher, a diplomat, a part-time soldier, and an academic at various times and in various countries. She is now a writer and research consultant in Barbados.”

Like their author, the characters in this science-fiction novel have brown skin, although sadly the cover of the edition I read is white-washed. The main character is a woman, and has a woman boss. Relatedly, this is an emotionally non-violent book. Violence does occur off-screen, but the emphasis is on relating, healing, and grieving, rather than on domination and victory.

I enjoyed the plot, but the reason I kept reading is that I enjoyed watching the characters relate to each other and themselves in a future where we’ve gotten better at not oppressing each other.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.