Help Yourself

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I used to be addicted to self-help books. On my quest for some sort of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, I would read voraciously, buying a new tome even before I completely finished the last one. I was like a crack whore down at the bowery. (And, man, you know what cracks whores down at the bowery are like.)

But satisfaction was difficult for someone like me because, as you know, I roll my eyes at pretty much everything and use my sardonic wit to stab holes in people, places, and things. So, although I was immersed in the rapidly growing self-help movement, I would mock it whenever I could. Besides, who was I kidding? Despite my intense interest, I couldn't even meditate for more than 10 seconds before I sprung to my feet in frustration and ran to the kitchen to eat Ben and Jerry's Banana Split Ice Cream.

The depth of my obsession?

I read the work of such New Age heavy-hitters as Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Don Miguel Ruiz, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson. I studied people who attempted to bridge spirituality with "real-world" psychology: Richard Carlson, Thomas Moore, Wayne Muller. I tried more "grounded" authors like Melody Beattie, Susan Jeffers, and Alice Miller. How about the "classic" writers responsible for launching the movement in the first place? Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Ernest Holmes—yup, I looked to them too. And the damn list goes on and on. You name 'em, I know 'em.

After 15 years, I was overwhelmed. (You would think I would be overwhelmed after my third Deepak Chopra book, but perhaps I am a glutton for punishment—or maybe I so desperately want answers.) Not only was there an endless amount of reading that could keep me occupied forever and an infinite number of perspectives, each book that seemed to have all the answers were much too complicated for my tastes.

Trying to keep track of all the things you have to do in order to lead a more fulfilling life is like playing that old electronic memory game, Simon, in which you have to punch the colored buttons in the same order that they light up. There's a limit to how many of those flashing lights you can keep track of—unless you're some kind of freaky genius.

Just browse the self-help section of your local bookstore (marked "self-improvement" by some stores who feel that the term "self-help" is too prone to mockery and shame). The shelves are filled with books with titles like Everyday Enlightenment: The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity, and so on. Too many rules turn many of us off. No wonder some recovering alcoholics fall off the wagon—12 steps is just too damn much.

The path to personal growth and spiritual enlightenment would be so much easier if there were only one thing that you had to remember and integrate into your life. Wouldn't that be great? A one-step, self-help program. There would be so much more happy people in the world.

So what is that one thing?

You could throw around some cliches like "love" and "peace." Or you could try being clever by referencing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and answering, "42." But none of those responses sit well with me.

I think that whatever it is has to make your jaw drop in amazement and exclaim, "Holy fucking shit, that's it!"

About six months ago, I decided to stop reading these books that have become such an important part of my life and chose to cling to just one work that resonated with me more than anything else that had come before it. If I could narrow down my quest to just one work, I thought, maybe I could eventually narrow that down to one paragraph, then one sentence, then maybe even just one word.

Every piece of a hologram, remember, contains the whole.

[To be continued...]

Reporting From Glendale, California

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BAMBOO NATION: Help Yourself
Help Yourself
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