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Book Review — “This Messy Magnificent Life”

I have a special place in my heart for Geneen Roth’s books. Back when I was in the throes of my emotional and binge-eating, she was there to teach me that food wasn’t love, that I could honor my needs rather than gobble them away, and that I could enjoy a comfortable body weight without dieting and deprivation. And now she has a new book out that’s just as wise, witty, and inspirational as her others, the aptly named "This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide."
As a writer myself, I’m a sucker for beautiful prose and Geneen’s liquid, lyrical style doesn’t disappointment. As a therapist, I’m thrilled that she’s finally stopped seeking answers from outside “experts” and now recognizes that she is her own font of considerable, ever-flowing wisdom. By writing from that point of view, she encourages us all to look inward to learn, as she says, what we already know.
I wish I’d taken notes while reading the book, but I was too busy absorbing her insights and being carried along by her heartfelt, honest and humorous writing. Fortunately, Geneen sets out a tidy list of what she calls “touchstones” (not, emphasizes, to be confused with rigid rules) which summarize her philosophy and teachings. They are to:
  1. “Stand in your own two shoes.” Move from living in your mind to (really) being in your body. And breathe deeply. As the saying goes, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
  2. “Disengage from the crazy aunt in the attic (aka the bully, the judge, the inner parent).” Know that these voices were once adaptive and are now maladaptive.
  3. “Be kind to the ghost children.” Recognize when you’re being triggered by memories of your hurting younger self and be curious about them, without confusing them with the adult you who lives in reality.
  4. “Stop believing your thoughts.” Don’t buy into every idea that pops into your head about yourself or the world, but develop a conscious, rational understanding of why things are as they are.
  5. “Drop the war.” You are not living in a fixer-upper self any more than the rest of us are. Do what you can to improve yourself and make friends with your demons.
  6. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s not wrong?’” Focus on what’s going well in your life and stop dwelling on your faults, failures and frailties.
  7. “Pay attention to what remains.” Discover what life has to offer you (and you it) by getting out from under all your judgments and viewing life more objectively.
One caveat about the book: writer Annie Lamott’s introduction. As I say in my Amazon review (, for a secular reader like me, her hyper-religiosity is not only off-putting, but totally mischaracterizes Roth’s book which is neither about God nor religion. I say this so that other readers won’t think that the introduction is indicative of what follows.
So treat yourself (Roth’s books are better than ice cream!) to a read that will amuse and amaze you. And know that you don’t need to have an eating problem to benefit from it. You simply have to be human.