Author Jayni Bloch was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the era of apartheid, and that painful period is the context for her story of psychological and spiritual growth.
Having grown up myself in the segregated American South, I found Bloch’s story particularly interesting. Not only were there racial divisions in South Africa between black and white, but divisions between the whites who spoke English and those, like Bloch, who spoke Afrikaans. Bloch uses this experience of growing up in a repressive place and her own healing process to develop a model of positive change that she believes others can use. While her book is missing important references and detail, there is still something to be gained from reading it.
The appendix of The Riddle in the Mirror is a short history of South Africa, which is helpful in following the narrative. Early on in school, Bloch writes, she was separated from her best friend, an English speaker, and was humiliated by her teacher. She was confused by her country’s preaching of humanity and how it differed from the reality of how individuals were treated. She also suffered the death of siblings.
The influence of Carl Jung is prevalent throughout her book. Learning the stories of culture helped her to transcend the cultural prescriptions and be in touch with her “God self.” Listening to her dreams, Bloch writes, also helped her to cope later on with the loss of her marriage, and led her to leave South Africa for Canada. Along the way, she met an aboriginal elder in Ottawa who taught her Algonquin history and who welcomed her “home.”
After the autobiographical portions, the remainder of the book is a discourse, almost a manifesto, on how to heal. It comes through that Bloch strongly believes these principles, because she has lived them. She lists 14 of them, ranging from “accept what is” and “ask questions” to “distinguish between human ego and the divine self” and “get to know archetypes.” She looks at how our egos are captured by the stories that our history foists upon us, and how we need to move beyond that. We need to see that we are one, she writes, and are much more than just that image reflected in the mirror.
Bloch then moves on to a “conceptual model of the meaning and purpose of life.” She uses the account of Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who had a left-hemisphere stroke, to help frame the model. Bloch feels that we are too left-brain oriented, and uses Taylor’s account to help support that. She also feels that “life evolves according to archetypal principles” and that we connect with these in various ways. Our self and brain, she writes, embody a physical self, a spiritual self, an energetic self, and an emotional self. She then draws from Taoist philosophy for the dualism of our experience, and how the yin and yang complement and complete each other.
Lastly she breaks down archetypes into specific types: the multi-dimensional idealist, the connector, the performer, the champion, the observer, the skeptic, the entrepreneur, the courageous, and the moderator. She then outlines a healing process for each.
Bloch took on a tough challenge with this book. To paraphrase the Tao de Ching, that entity which can be named is not the real entity. Bloch writes, “The non-linear, subtle language of symbolism speaks to us without rational interpretations.” And yet, to move past these processes, we at least initially use language and give names to processes and types.
Though some of the book is vague, it does end with two graphical models of the cycle of repetitive conflict, and the cycle of the healing response. It gives us a list of nine things we can do to help us along on our healing journey; these include keeping a journal and tracking dreams, and loving and accepting oneself first and then applying love and acceptance to everything and everyone else. Indeed, Bloch packs a lot into a relatively short book. Almost every page has multiple insights she has gained, and prescriptions for how to heal.
Overall, I found the book interesting, and Bloch’s story compelling. However, I did find myself wishing that Bloch had expanded on the details of the stories of change — both her own experience and the few tales of others in the book. I also found myself wishing that the book contained footnotes or more references to the works from which Bloch drew on for her model, as well as an index, which is sorely missing.
Finally, I found myself wishing that the editor had been a better proofreader. There were moments when the too-frequent typographical errors were distracting.
Still, Bloch seems like an insightful, thoughtful, and intuitive person and therapist. While this particular book may have been lacking in several key areas, Bloch has learned much on her journey, and I expect to hear more from her.
The Riddle in the Mirror: A Journey in Search of Healing
Balboa Press, 2012
Paperback, 130 pages