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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Extreme Self-Care

By Janet Dagley Dagley

The minute I saw the title of Cheryl Richardson's latest book, I knew I had to review it here. After all, self-care is the foundation of Reiki practice: if we don't take care of ourselves, how can we be helpful to others? While Ms. Richardson may not be a Reiki practitioner herself, she's a well-established expert on self-care, as her appearances on Oprah as well as the bestseller list demonstrate.

The book arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time: I was down with the flu in midwinter, worn down from weeks of caretaking during a severe flare-up of my husband's chronic illness. I was in dire need of some extreme self-care. 

I was surprised when I opened the mailing carton: it looked like a coffee-table book: large, flat, colorful. Ms. Richardson sits smiling on the cover, impeccably coiffed, wrapped in a big comfy sweater, a beautiful, deserted beach in the background. I gazed longingly at the beach -- and the sweater, for that matter -- and then came back to reality, put the book down on my desk and went back to my chores. 

I got over the flu in a couple of days, but my husband's illness dragged on for weeks. As I dealt with more urgent matters, the book sat there amid a pile of waiting tasks, Ms. Richardson smiling up at me, the beach beckoning. She seemed to be urging me to look after myself, and I appreciated the reminder even if I didn't have time to open the book. The fact that I've been preaching the importance of self-care to my readers here for several years was a reminder, too, and I did manage to keep my personal daily Reiki practice going, albeit in truncated form. But the accumulated stress left me needing my personal practice and other forms of self-care all the more. At times Ms. Richardson's smiling face and that inviting beach seemed to be taunting me. Sure, she's an expert on self-care, I thought. But is she an expert on keeping that going in trying times?

Indeed she is, as I discovered once I finally got past the cover and began reading. ". . . Once I signed on to write about Extreme Self-Care, my husband got very sick. . . " -- I could certainly identify -- "Not only was I running a company, hosting a weekly radio show, traveling to speaking engagements, but we were also in the final stages of building our dream home. . . ." 

That was the second paragraph -- and I was hooked. Ms. Richardson had clearly established her credibility. From there, I zoomed eagerly through the book. It's a quick read, but the book is intended to last the reader for a whole year. Each chapter is an assignment in personal transformation that takes a month to complete. I confess that I skipped ahead and began trying several of those techniques at once. I'm glad I did, because they came in handy right away. 

Active Reiki practitioners will be familiar with some of the topics, such as letting go of anger and worry, staying in the present, and creating sacred space. So for us, going through these exercises can itself be a form of Reiki practice.

If you're not in the habit of taking care of yourself, some of the chapters in this book might seem difficult, frivolous, or both. Learning to do something positive each time you look in the mirror, rather than just focusing on your own superficial flaws, can feel awkward at first. And to the chronic caregiver, it might even seem counterintuitive that sometimes the best way to get more of what you need is to let other people have their way. Ms. Richardson's example of that is, of course, from personal experience: she discovered that her husband could load the dishwasher without her help, once she stopped telling him how to arrange the dishes. 

The final chapter, Your Extreme Self-Care First-Aid Kit, is for those who find themselves in situations such as the one Ms. Richardson found herself in when she began writing the book. She had to clear what she could from her calendar, even delay the book project, to take care of her husband. She had to not only accept help from others, she had to ask for it. And then, in the midst of all that, she had a health scare of her own to deal with, and practicing what she preaches helped her get through it.

So if you're among those who take better care of others than you do of yourself, this book can be the perfect complement to your daily Reiki practice. It works best when you work with it and do all the exercises in real time, but in a pinch, even a glimpse of the cover might help. Maybe that's why they made it a coffee-table book.


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