From the very first page of Gabrielle Bernstein’s Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles I wanted to reject the book. I found the language too “Gabbified” with it’s “far outs”, “trippy’s”, and pop psychology which assigns the root of all our problems to the “ego”, which is quite a different sort of construct to the Freudian notion of that part of ourselves which serves as a mediator between the id and the superego, forming intellectual synthesis. The pragmatist in me found the book irritating, and reminiscent of the floppy “Ashram-think” I rejected as a child (with rather a similar background to Bernstein), but I couldn’t push the book away.
Indeed, I kept coming back to Spirit Junkie, and inevitably would find myself reading it in the midst of my most intense anger, fear, or frustration — emotions that seemed to be surfacing unbidden, more frequently than usual. Every time I opened the book I found myself drawn into it, almost against my will (‘ego’ if you like). And every time I began to read it, I started to feel my anger, fear, and frustration disappearing — turning into acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude. In other words, in spite of all my skepticism, the book helped me, sometimes considerably. In spite of the funky language, which may actually draw in younger Americans, there is a very compelling energy that underlines Bernstein’s words. Beyond the semantics, there is a strong shared point of truth that is being presented and it’s something that I found impossible to ignore.
So what’s the book all about? It’s partly about Bernstein’s own journey as she struggled past addiction, chronic acceptance seeking, and failed relationships. Bernstein’s story is an engaging enough one on its own, presented with honesty and courage, and her willingness to share her own difficulties, illusions, and breakthroughs is probably enough to keep the reader reading. Beyond that though, the book is a call to action, and this is what I found compelling, in spite of my resistance.
The key message comes from Dr. Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles, the backbone to Spirit Junkie. The book conveys, primarily through anecdote and exercises, the idea that we need to shift our perceptions from fear to love in order to create our own personal miracles. Each chapter ends with a brief exercise, most of which take the form of a meditation or affirmation. Again, I wanted to resist these — meditation has never been something I’ve been interested in, despite a lifelong yoga practice. However, in spite of myself, I found myself repeating the affirmations and using the meditations, which are all simple and easy to remember, therefore particularly valuable when you feel yourself overcome by fear or anger.
Ultimately, Spirit Junkie is a very simple book with a single message delivered in a variety of ways. However basic it seems, the reality is that, for many people and women in particular, fear sabotages us in a wide variety of ways. It holds us back, causing us to de-prioritise our own needs, and putting up barriers to self-actualisation, happiness, and inner peace. It takes the form of pebbles we throw out to undermine our abilities and stop us from being truly happy and at peace. In our busy world where achievement and ticking boxes seems to take priority over everything else, the message is a critically important one, however it’s delivered. Call it “ego”, or fear, or self-sabotage, and talk about God, spirit, ‘-ing’, or simply our own inner, innate capabilities. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Bernstein’s book is powerful and effective, infused with extraordinary energy and passion. I was unable to dismiss it, and I find myself returning to the exercises and affirmations frequently as fear is replaced by acceptance and calm.