Tag Archives: Book Review

Be kind to yourself.These past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I’ve been familiar with Dr. Neff’s work for several years now, but this is the first time I’ve read the book.

Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. I know I’ve become much more self-compassionate over the years, but I didn’t start out that way. It certainly didn’t come naturally to me.

I think having kids switched on a light bulb in my mind, but I also started practicing mindfulness meditation the year after my oldest was born so perhaps the two are linked. At any rate – I started realizing that, more than anything, I wanted my children to be accepting of who they are. Of course, I also want them to learn to be kind to others, to be prepared to learn new things, and to see the ways in which their own choices are intricately woven into the experiences of others.

But I came to realize that the two didn’t have to be separate. You can be true to yourself and still see that your natural habits (perhaps impatience or irritability under stress) might negatively impact others. By being kind and accepting of yourself you give yourself the gift of learning – of saying to yourself, “You know, I can see it’s super hard for you to take a deep breath here, but I think you’ll feel better if you do.”

Anyway, all of that made me realize – if I want that for them, I should probably be making some efforts to do the same thing for myself.

Here are some of the ways I’ve brought more self-compassion into my own life in the past few years:

  1. I take breaks when I need them. This is a hard one for me. I like to be “doing,” but accepting that sometimes taking a break makes me more able to accomplish the tasks I have before me has been huge.
  1. I make every effort to approach myself without judgment. I have personality traits that can make life difficult for me. I can be impatient and I am kind of an anxious person. But instead of criticizing myself for these traits, I try to remind myself that I can respond differently to these natural tendencies if I choose to. More than being something I need to change about myself, these traits are things I need to know about myself so that I can make the best possible decisions for my life and in my relationships with others.
  1. I practice developing a relationship with all of my emotions. There are no good or bad emotions – just the way we feel at a given moment. But, it’s true that some emotions feel good to us and some feel awful. It’s not always easy, but I try my best to welcome all of my emotions as they come.
  1. I seek out the support of people I trust. This has been a big one. For much of my life, I felt the need to hide what I was truly feeling. I tend to be a pretty happy, optimistic person, but no one has only one channel. I don’t think when I was young I ever learned how to really express the whole range of emotions well. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties I started experimenting more with being open about my experiences (both positive and negative) with others. It was amazing to see the benefits of this. I found it alleviated some of my stress and worry, it strengthened my relationships with others and it made me see other people, as I had always wanted to be seen – as someone with a diverse range of feelings.

These are just a few of the ways that I’ve been able to be more loving with myself. We have a tendency to think that in order to succeed we need to be hard on ourselves, but contrary to what some people might assume – these shifts have enabled me to become more productive, more creative, more connected to the people I love and more able to see both ups and downs as part of the inherent human condition.

If you’re interested in becoming more self-compassionate, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Neff’s book. It is full of wonderful information about the science of self-compassion, but it’s highly accessible and also includes real life examples (including her personal story and struggle with self acceptance) and exercises you can do to boost your self-compassion. You can also test your level of self-compassion with her online quiz.

Be sure to also check out my blog post on how to take a break when you need one.

I don’t usually review books here, but increasingly I feel drawn to create an archive of book reviews. I read a lot. Maybe it’s a good idea. People often ask me if I can recommend books about the expat experience or about mindfulness. It dawned on me while reading Tracy Slater’s memoir The Good Shufu that it encompasses both of these elements. So, book recommendation it is.

Slater’s memoir is many things – a beautiful love story, a recounting of deep loss, a journey of someone who must surrender to losing parts of her identity and open to gaining others, a detailed account of her culture shock experience and a tale of friendship and family in unlikely places – but at it’s heart and in each of these different stories, it is a story of waking up.

Here are some lines that capture what I most love about The Good Shufu. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Slater writes,

“But I was learning that in real, messy life, sometimes you can’t fully smooth down the future before it arrives.”

“Perhaps utter vulnerability and pure peace really could coexist, surrender sometimes culminate in quiet joy, not destruction.”

“Now, the friction was between everything being the same and different at the same time. But wasn’t that life? To hold two contradicting truths at one time and to keep on holding them?”

“I spent so much of my early adulthood terrified of losing myself, grasping on to some illusion of having firm control over life, an unshakable plot. But I’m starting to realize that you can’t properly find yourself if you haven’t let yourself get lost in the first place.”

I think one of the reasons these lines speak to me is that Slater is so able to say what so many expats feel and she says it so well. The expat experience is one of constant contradiction – the feeling of not wanting things to change, but knowing we have no option, the desire to be both “home” and “away from home” at the same time, the sense that we’re making a huge mistake and yet somehow feeling that all this mobility just feels right.

It’s nice to read about someone else’s journey and feel we have common ground, to know that we’re not alone in what we experience. However, I think the true gift that we gain in reading The Good Shufu is that Slater teaches us, by sharing her own journey, that it’s not enough to simply recognize this duality – we must wake up to it, get up close and personal with it, and listen to what it may be teaching us.

Slater experiences this herself. It begins to happen when she falls in love with a Japanese man while teaching English to Japanese businessmen for a summer. And she doesn’t just fall. This is real love. The sort of thing that you know is real in some deep-down, never-noticed-before place in your heart even though you can’t figure out why it’s real because…were you even looking for this?

The journey continues when month after month and then year after year she begins to see herself accepting a life that she never envisioned – a life that most definitely wasn’t part of her plan. What she experiences is not all bad or difficult, much of it is better than she ever could have dreamed, but it remains in almost every way, not what she had planned for.

And she sees all that. She reflects on it. It’s not always easy, but she wakes up to it. The contrast, the duality of existence that we feel as expats, provides her with a gift – a new awareness that the storyline can be written, loved and accepted without judgment, as she sees fit.

And this is what Slater shows us over the course of The Good Shufu – that you can have a plan and be laid flat by unpredicted circumstances, that you can feel tremendous depths of sadness while being wrapped in the arms of the person with whom you feel the most joyful, you can be convinced you know the right way while simultaneously being shown you have absolutely no idea. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s not only okay – it’s a chance to live more deeply, more authentically and more in-tune with what’s happening around you.

So why should you read The Good Shufu?

In this funny, conversational and completely down-to-earth memoir, we learn one woman’s story of finding love in and acceptance of the inherent duality of the expat experience. We learn that true contentment can be found in ourselves and in others even when we, or they, stray from our original story line. The Good Shufu is about seeing and learning to accept all the ups and downs and pure confusion that come with real life and knowing that somewhere in there there’s a story worth coming home to.

But above all else, The Good Shufu teaches us the importance of remembering to take a long hard look in the mirror and out the window because there are answers all around us…if we can just let go long enough to truly see.

Get the book here.