Book Review: This Messy Magnificent Life

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?

14 comments

  1. Hi Janet! I am familiar with Geneen Roth’s work but hadn’t heard of her new book. What a great introduction and you’ve made it even more tempting. And even those of us who don’t believe we have issues with food would likely learn something about our patterns and how easily we reach for easy solutions when there is something deeper calling us. And what a great line, ““At some point …, therapy meets spirituality and fixing ourselves meets the realization that there is nothing more to fix.” ~Kathy

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    • I absolutely agree Kathy — I tried to get across that this book is really not about food issues — because “how easily we reach for easy solutions”. And I love the last line you quoted, isn’t it great! Thanks for joining the conversation – and I’ll be interested to hear your take on the book after you’ve read it.

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  2. Hi Janet,
    I’ve read This Messy Magnificent Life after reading and then rereading “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair”, “Women, Food and God” and one of her very earliest ones that I don’t own and therefore forget the name of.

    I loved, loved ‘If You Eat at the Refrigerator” and I really liked “Women, Food and God” even though it had next to nothing to do with God. Geneen has a wonderfully inviting and humorous writing style. It was her books that got me started on intuitive eating and I still think she has a great deal to offer in that vein.

    I pre-ordered This Messy Magnificent Life on the strength of her other books and then, when I got it, was so excited to see that Anne Lamott had written the introduction. I was sure it was going to be great!

    In other words,Janet, I set myself up and then got a bit disappointed. I do agree with you in all of the positives you give about this book. My disappointment is that Geneen makes such an thing of “you’re great just the way you are, you don’t need fixed” and then, in the book and in the videos and webinars I was able to access because I pre-ordered, she spends much of her time selling her $3000 retreat and her online programs to ‘help’ you realize that you don’t need fixed. That part was a real disconnect for me.

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    • Karen, I totally get what you mean about ‘helping’ people know they don’t need fixed. This is one of my issues with so many of the ‘tricks’ for growing an business or author platform. I enjoyed the book, but I can’t see myself attending a retreat or workshop. But I suppose some folks need a little more support. Thanks for chiming in particularly as one more familiar with Geneen’s work.

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  3. Janet, you certainly make this book sound intriguing! Unfortunately I have too many books on my to-be-read pile to order any more (I’ve told myself to stop…we’ll see how long it lasts). I’m most intrigued with “twilight zone between wanting more and having enough”… the concept of being enough balanced with the desire to continue to grow. That in itself might make me buy this book…see how long that don’t buy has lasted! LOL.

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  4. Pat — the read is pretty easy so maybe borrowing from the library with a 2-3 week window to read could knock this one out without adding to your pile. Just a thought — it worked for me. Let me know if you do read it and what you think. Thanks for joining the conversation….

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  5. Hi Janet, a wonderful part of connecting with women like yourself, is the number of new books and authors I’ve been introduced to. I usually read novels but over the last couple of months have found some wonderful books that have helped me spiritually and mentally in my constant quest for self-development. Thank you for the review and another book to add to my list. Have a beautiful day xx

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    • Sue – I also enjoy novels and did a good deal of self-development reading in my earlier adult life so let it fall by the wayside more recently. This was a pleasant surprise — and sparked an interest to read a bit more. I also appreciate hearing about gems that others in the blogging community share! Thanks for joining the conversation…

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  6. I’m adding this to my TBR pile – it can count as a non-fiction/memoir. Just to let you know, I had a read of your guest post “it could be my child” & OMG…I have no other words. x

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  7. There is so much I liked about your review and this book. I too am not a foodie but love the retro concept of gathering around a meal. I see new life in this through Geneen’s connections. I also really hate whiners. My kids will tell you that, even today. So, her conclusions about acceptance are powerful to me.

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