This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide by Geneen Roth
On a recent visit to the library, I glanced at the NEW ARRIVALS to find This Magnificent Messy Life, by Geneen Roth staring at me, with the words ‘Women Food and God’ along the bottom. I added it to my pile and headed home.
A few Sundays ago, on my ‘I’m achy all over after lining the bathtub surround with waterproof membrane’ day – I devoured this delightful and profound masterpiece.
Anne Lamont’s introduction both promised a great read and caused hesitation – I feared that this would be a ‘my battle with food’ saga. While I’ve never struggled with weight concerns, for a period in my convent years I used food to stifle my stress. I can certainly relate to food struggles, but I kept thinking, ‘I don’t need to read about it now!’ Yet, I powered on….
Part One: Around the Table, Geneen weaves food issues with reflections on finances, wildfires, misogyny, and simple red strings – giving us pause to consider loss and plenty, self and other, and the power of feelings and attention. Without giving away too much, I’ll leave you with one quote from this section: “Fear isn’t a monster, it’s a feeling.” (p. 31). Wow!
Part Two: Through the Mind artfully draws us into the distinction between scary thoughts and scary situations, feelings and facts, and being present in the moment. As she mentions, “And according to Zen masters and dogs, there is no other day” (pg. 79). Her thoughts on living in the “twilight zone between wanting more and having enough” (pg. 119) and “all any feeling wants is to be welcomed with tenderness” (pg. 94) stopped me in my tracks.
Her reflections in Part Three: Into the Sublime on how she stopped complaining – her wins and fails – are both funny and uplifting – and even the chapter titles, “The Breaths I Have Left” and “Stop Waiting to Be Ready” speak volumes – even before enjoying the anecdotes that led to her insight.
Geneen wraps up her lessons with Seven Touchstones – which I will not share because I encourage you to pick up a copy of This Magnificent Messy Life – and re-discover you.
Breadcrumbs of Wisdom for me
Geneen’s breadcrumbs of wisdom brought many of my own anecdotes to mind, but her realization that her mother loved her as best she could – no blame, no anger, no pain – left me feeling finally understood. I’ve often tried to explain how recognizing the limitations of my parents’ love is not criticism or blame but honoring each individual’s limitations and loving them still. No one is perfect – and I pray that one day my own children will find comfort in the truth that I have loved them as best I could.
Despite believing I had no need to think about my relationship to food, several of Geneen’s stories brought to mind scenes of finishing off that last piece of chocolate cake (after eating the first 7 pieces), eating half of the six dozen cookies I baked as they came out of the oven, and being so addicted to carrots (But they’re good for you!) – that I turned orange. Now, with a far less stressful life, I do not find myself binge eating. But to avoid both a total deprivation mentality and comfort eating, I have created a pattern of treating myself to guilty pleasures on my leisure days and allowing myself to feel tired, bored, frustrated, anxious, angry, fearful, sad, etc. – instead of weighing my emotions down with empty calories when the stop in for a visit.
I fell in love with Geneen’s soul repeatedly during my journey through her magnificent messy life, but most profoundly when I happened upon these lines:
- “While I knew that I might be finished with therapy someday, I didn’t think done would look like this. I thought I would be fixed.” (pg. 135)
- “At some point …, therapy meets spirituality and fixing ourselves meets the realization that there is nothing more to fix.” (pg. 138)
- “When we are convinced we have to earn joy, we don’t notice the ten thousand places in which it is already waiting, asking, waving for our attention.” (pg. 170)
Perhaps you will fall in love with her, too.
Join the Conversation:
Geneen refers often to ‘my wise teacher, Jeanne’. I’m not certain who Jeanne is, but I couldn’t help thinking – if only we each at a Jeanne. Do you have (or have you had) a Jeanne in your life? What wisdom did she impart that offered breadcrumbs of wisdom for you?