Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

The Antidote

by Oliver Burkeman

This book is off-topic for this blog, but (a) I wanted to write and think about it and (b) this is where the link to Powell’s lives, so here you are.

As soon as I heard about The Antidote, I figured it would be of interest to me. And I was right. I also thought it would make a nice intellectual pairing with “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America“, and I was right in that regard as well: Burkeman quotes Ehrenreich extensively in his first chapter.

You could say that Bright-Sided outlines the problem: That positive thinking is corrosive, that it places too much value fixating on one emotional state to the expense on all the others, and that it makes circumstance a personal responsibility. Ehrenreich first began her research into the insidiousness of the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and looks at how it affects everything from major illnesses to dieting to business practices.

In that sense, The Antidote outlines some tactics that an individual can take to find, if not the shallow happiness of positive thinking and affirmativism (“Because I’m bright enough, and smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!”), at least a deeper peace.

The first chapter outlines some of the problems of false positivism. One of the main problems is that by reciting affirmations, or by striking the word impossible from your vocabulary (as self-help gurus advise), you’re setting yourself up with a “don’t think about the white elephant” type of problem: by stating one thing, you’re also creating the opposite in your head.

Subsequent chapters look at different ways of finding happiness or peace, examining ideas from as far back as the Stoic philosophers and Buddhism, or as contemporary as Eckhard Tolle and the Museum of Failed Products.

The chapters that resonated most with me were “Who’s There? How to Get Over Yourself” and “The Safety Catch: The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity.”

In “Who’s There?” Burkeman looks at what Buddhists call the monkey mind, the “I”; one of the questions he asks is who is it you can’t stand when you say you can’t stand yourself? What is the source of those thoughts constantly running through your mind?

I have a very strong internal narrator; sometimes it’s right at the surface, and I’m talking to myself so deep into imagined conversations I am making gestures. Sometimes it helps me work out a problem, but most often it just takes me away from the moment I’m in. These thoughts are never here now; now is beyond articulation, you can only think about the past or the future.

“The Safety Catch” resonated with me because I’ve only recently appreciated the value of the struggle to learn, the difficulty of not knowing while you attempt to figure something out. I’ve avoided that wherever I’ve encountered it, whether schooling or in art forms such as physical theater or writing science fiction.

And I see now that I’ve used the internal voice as a wall against insecurity, not knowing. The voice wasn’t helping me “plan out the story” as much as it helped me avoid writing. And the voice wasn’t preparing me for various scenarios as much as it walled me off from them when I was in the moment.

The Antidote is a book that can bear thinking about and reconsidering. Burkeman himself has an epilogue chapter looking at how his life has been affected by what he learned while writing this book.

If there are brambles in the path, it is enough to step out of their way.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

Tags: barbara ehrenreich, book review, bright-sided, faber and faber, oliver burkeman, positive thinking, powell's, review, the antidote

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