Andy Lloyd's Book Reviews
By AlixSandra Parness
New Page Books, 2012
Imagine your life as a boat journey across the sea. Imagine also that different points on the horizon correspond with each emotion you experience in your life, and that the conditions of the journey are related to the direction your are heading in. We all know from our own complex lives that this journey is far from a benign voyage with the wind in our sails, across calm, sun-drenched seas towards the realm of happiness. Chances are, our lives involve a more chaotic voyage, intermittently strewn with tempests, high seas, doldrums and so on. Continuing with my analogy, the essence of 'Activate Joy' is that we can strongly influence that journey across the sea by using a sort of inner compass - that is, we are able to align our journey across life's ocean by pointing our inner compass towards joy.
Such a philosophy naturally requires a tremendous amount of positive thinking, and support from others. Inside each of us, AlixSandra Parness asserts, are pre-programmed voices trained conditionally to steer us away from personal joy (that idealistic state perhaps only experienced as a small child). She calls these voices our Yabbits (a cute rendering of 'yeah but...'). Like in meditation, her practices are designed to help us become aware of these inner naysayers, and find ways of steering through the inner minefields they generate towards, not just happiness, but joy.
It is an internal struggle that is in no way based on the actuality of what life throws at us, or how we deal with the world, but on a realisation of our personal inherent goodness. In fact, she goes as far as to advocate this controversial thought:
"I am the essence of pure goodness. My goodness has nothing to do with my actions or the actions of anyone else." (p117)
Parness has created a modern repackaging of Christian mysticism. Her writing can best be described as beatific, and the journey she promotes seems not unlike Dante's Paradiso, albeit without the heavily intellectual and cultural content of the poet's comedy. However, in the same way that Paradiso is a fairly slow work compared to the more famous and infinitely more entertaining Inferno, Activate Joy was at times a pretty dull read. That's not to say its heart's not in the right place, or that the message of positive thinking is not a valid psychological tool. It just on it's own it doesn't create a very interesting book.
Perhaps, if I may go back to my previous analogy; that's because the great joy of life itself is its variety, both good and bad. Sometimes it's good for us to feel a differing set of emotions as we traverse life's seas. Sometimes we need storms to get through, icy rains to shelter from, doldrums to sit through. Often, setting our inner direction is more akin to Captain Jack Sparrow's incoherent use of the Black Compass. Life is less about sailing towards the Sun, and more about tacking adventurously along a wild coastline, precariously avoiding the rocks, in search of treasure. So, personally, I think her philosophy is wide of the mark.
That said, AlixSandra Parness is evidently a supportive counsellor and wise teacher. Her descriptions of group work and some of her case studies back up her assertions of the power of unconditional acceptance and love. I can imagine her to be a trustworthy guide along the path of spiritual growth, and can see why she has built up a strong church, or school, around herself (known as 'Inner Focus'). She is influenced by New Age as well as more traditional Christian thinking. She describes her involvement in Jane Robert's group in 1972, when 'Seth' was channelled (pp148-151). She is also strongly influenced by the Abraham-Hicks material about the Laws of Attraction and Resonance (pp63-4). Unfortunately, she rather assumes both these teachings are more widespread than they actually are. I would have preferred more content about them, rather than allusions to material which I was not up to speed on (and bear in mind I read quite a lot of this stuff).
Channelling plays a large part in the book. Parness claims at various points to have received messages from entities as diverse as Jesus, dolphins, horses and even tulips. As I have alluded to already, her mystical credentials are strong, even if her writing is essentially prosaic. Her faith seems strong too, and her belief in the concept that faith can move mountains stronger still. I'm not so convinced that we are able to create our own reality, per se, but I do accept that we can, to some degree at least, shape our own inner mindset - and that has got to help as we engage our freewill to battle against the natural forces of determinism.
Self-awareness has got to be a good thing, and although the book risks advocating navel-gazing and self-centredness, I think that - as long as we are aware of the risk of losing that inner-outer balance - searching our inner selves is a good thing. Because there's the paradox which runs through the book, but is never acknowledged by it: We find personal happiness through our interactions with other people in our lives. Specifically addressing Parness's wider work, group support is central to achieving personal inner progress. In her mysticism, then, she is more abbess than ascetic.
'Activate Joy' provides a good introduction to the philosophy behind her organisation, even if it is, on its own, a rather uninspiring vehicle towards spiritual progress. She provides plenty of contacts to other workers in her field, and I think that finding a group to work with would be the next best step for anyone wishing to move along the spiritual path she advocates:
"Programs such as Inner Focus are here to go the distance with people, to provide the long-term tools that allow the natural flow of consciousness to integrate and stabilize, if that is your path. We use these tools to mature from our wounds, and move from the place that seeks safety to a place of accountability." (p213)
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Book review by Andy Lloyd, 31st May 2012
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