In my teens and most of my twenties I was immersed in the kind of love-based principles now bursting from Sherianna Boyle’s new book. I was well-aware of The Secret before it was on Oprah’s must-read list. I stumbled across vision boarding and repeated affirmations at a time when all but two friends would wave their hands at such batty ideas. (The joke is on them, though: almost all my female friends do vision boarding now.) I received certifications in meditation and yoga and would talk for hours with close friends about chakras and auras. I unsuccessfully tried to convince my mother to support me through a metaphysical/spiritual certification. I thought all of this was one of the most amazing, empowering things I had ever encountered.
And, in the right context, I still do.
But while Choosing Love: Discover How to Connect to the Universal Power of Love — and Live a Full, Fearless, and Authentic Life! spouts a “Love, love, love!” message more than a certain well-known New Jersey housewife, Boyle’s book reinforces why, over the last decade, I’ve approached certain “love movement” gurus with caution.
“I am pretty big on manners,” Boyle writes. “However, if something in a social setting is throwing me off energetically I have no problem being a little rude.”
This type of subtle commentary — even when buried under a pile of shiny love quotes — reveals a fundamental concern I have with those who endow themselves with the love guru title. Love means it’s okay for me to be rude to you, Boyle and her ilk say, but if you are rude to me then you are lowly and in need of guidance. You don’t understand real love like I do… and so on. It makes me worry: has spreading love become synonymous with dismissing other people?
Boyle’s book is about exactly what it says it is: choosing love. It repeatedly focuses on “transforming fearful living into fearless loving.” It claims to be able to help you let go of your deepest fears and everyday stresses and experience joy and abundance through a variety of meditative exercises meant to open your heart and through personal anecdotes from the author. Chapters are separated into parts with titles such as “Energy Work” and “Letting Love into Your Body and Mind.”
The book sounded like it’d be inspiring, but fell short of my expectations. I wanted to feel moved by — to love — this book, and I believe Boyle’s intentions are good. Unfortunately, not only does some of her philosophy make me uncomfortable, but her book is trapped somewhere between Eat, Pray, Love and an instructional self-help manual, and never quite takes off.
First, the format seemed scattered. And although Boyle’s occasional curse word or naughty disclosure (such as calling her mother’s boyfriend a prick) were refreshing, I found myself asking, Why does the rest of this book read so dry?
Aside from my disconnect with the writing voice, I took issue with some of Boyle’s musings. For example, she posits that judgment is fear, anxiety can be willed away if you believe it, goals aren’t really that great (intentions are much better), and that, basically, you shouldn’t ruminate or reflect when you do crappy things to other people because that gets in the way of love.
When it comes to these types of simplifications, I strongly disagree.
I won’t even get into her commentary on minimizing parental abandonment or on sleep. If the whole idea of Boyle’s book is about choosing love in every moment, then some of her own ideas are quite misguided.
After all, I am currently “judging” her book for this review. But, unlike what Boyle might say, my judgment does not stem from fear. It stems from the fact that I disliked the format and the way Boyle proposes her philosophy. I do not want her to be silent; I do not fear her message or her ability to inspire others if it helps them grow. By all means, go forth and share! I believe in the ability to agree to disagree. I can embrace her good intentions without yielding to her preferences. Being indirectly accused of something as heinous as “fear” because of my judgment seems absurd and drastic to me.
And her thoughts on how to choose love over anxiety? “The power of belief is now a recognized phenomenon highly documented and supported by psychological and medical communities,” she writes. Later, she continues, “In the case of my class, two students verbalized thoughts such as, ‘It can’t be that easy to transform anxiety, if it were then I would have done it a long time ago.’ They believe it was ‘too good to be true’ and so their experience became one that brought them closer to fear than love. When you believe differently, you feel different. It is a proven truth.”
This is the extent of her point on the matter. No footnotes with anxiety studies — just a blanket statement that you can will away your anxiety with your thoughts. Do I believe this can work? Sure, but not for everyone. If thinking things away were one-size-fits-all, then people would not be popping Xanax or suffering disease and illness.
And what about my original qualm: how others are to be treated? “If you find yourself continuing to think constantly about how poor business is or how you feel bad that you weren’t a little nicer to your coworker, it could be a bone,” Boyle writes. (Bones are bad; they are synonymous with troubles.) I’m not trying to take this out of context, but a subtle message seemed to keep appearing in Boyle’s work: avoid ruminating on your poor behavior toward someone. And something about that does not say “love” to me.
Instead, it says avoidance. Avoidance of pain, avoidance of guilt, avoidance of responsibility for the fact that you acted poorly. It translates to a feeling of entitlement, a disassociation from the emotional consequences of your actions.
Had Boyle added something about an appropriate reflection period (or perhaps an apology to said coworker), I would have seen it as sensible. Instead, it concerns me to see a message of “I don’t have to reflect on these harsh feelings” so easily promoted in the name of “love.”
But perhaps this is all semantics. Boyle writes: “What I have learned, and what I hope you will learn from my choices (notice I don’t say mistakes: I don’t believe in them) is that choosing love actually comes from a place of non-effort.”
I’m a huge fan of the word “choices.” But when people consciously choose to substitute “choices” for “mistakes” it reflects a lack of authenticity and an inability to accept accountably. In hindsight, you did make “choices,” but they were poor choices, and it is important to distinguish between the two. After all, what kind of apology does that type of substitution make?
- “You really hurt me.”
“I’m sorry for my choice.”
It screams stone-cold shoulder shrug. It claims no ownership or responsibility. It only perpetuates self-love, not whole-love. Now make that small, semantic adjustment:
- “You really hurt me.”
“I’m sorry for my mistake.” (Or, “I’m sorry for my poor choice.”)
Semantics can mean the difference between condescension and empathy, and the latter word choice reflects that you own your part in what has happened. There is a reason humans invented different words, and that is because they denote specific things.
Ultimately, I am reminded of an inspirational quote (pasted over some Zen image, of course) that I came across on Facebook this week: “If someone comes into your life who doesn’t align with your spirit[,] send them love and continue on your way.” Like this quote, what Choosing Love lacks is more expansive guidance about how to engage in outward love when it doesn’t perfectly align with your self-love practice. That, to me, is the hardest part about the love movement: How do you love someone you can’t stand?
Boyle’s subjective ways to self-care may be a win for her personally (and may be a great win for many others working on the self-love step). But attempting to answer the question above is truly the other half of the “choosing love” process, and Boyle didn’t sit well with me in that respect. Books that come to mind that far exceed Boyle’s include Kundalini & the Chakras: Evolution in this Lifetime, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (with commentary by Swami Satchidananda), The Tao of Pooh, and Full Catastrophe Living.
While I understand and appreciate the positive intention behind this book (and believe some might find it helpful), I do not consider it the whole picture of choosing love. In some ways I think Boyle unknowingly advocates against love. That could be a result of the structure, the semantics. Perhaps it is genuinely how she feels.
There are people out there who can benefit from this book, I am sure. I just hope that once they have mastered self-love, they aren’t so high in the sky that they spend their days looking down on those of us left on the ground.
Choosing Love: Discover How to Connect to the Universal Power of Love — and Live a Full, Fearless, and Authentic Life!
Adams Media, December 2015
Paperback, 240 pages