Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, by Mary Pipher

Mary Pipher came to Indianapolis recently and spoke about family issues, ones she details in her book "The Shelter of Each Other." After Pipher's talk, as I passed by the obligatory book selling table, the title that caught my eye was not Shelter, but her newest book, "Seeking Peace," a memoir. It seemed fitting that Pipher, who exuded a self-effacing, homespun, calm that is stereotypical of her Nebraska hometown, never once mentioned her memoir that night.
In "Seeking Peace," Pipher, a therapist who has written extensively about family and women's issues, has a "break-down," ironically, at the pinnacle of her success. She tours the country promoting "Reviving Ophelia," her breakout book, but feels increasingly burdened by the evil cousins of depression and anxiety.
As Pipher details how she faces her crisis, she allows us to see the desperation of her struggle as well as the resolve she uses to get her life back on track. Pipher looks at the story she has always told herself about her own upbringing, and she discovers the seeds, until then not only unnoticed but suppressed, of the feelings of abandonment that stayed long dormant, but finally flowered into the suffering and anguish she was experiencing. She notices that throughout her life there had been hints: brief, fleeting appearances, of anxiety-ridden stumbling blocks, but they had always resolved unattended.
So how does Pipher, a famous therapist, approach her treatment when she falls into the rabbit hole of the same paralyzing symptoms her own patients present with? Pipher is scathingly honest here, as she tells of how she began using many of the same modes of treatment she uses with her patients, while also exploring ones outside her usual lexicon that provided relief. She tells us how she nourished and restored her soul, using the tools of yoga, massage, rest, mindfulness, and yes, medication.

Pipher gives us her story straight up. She's not a "spicy" memoirist, but she is an honest one, and that's really the only prerequisite that's mandatory for entry into the game. This quote from "Seeking Peace" sums up Pipher's journey, one I related to in many ways: "...I do not hold myself up to be a paragon of mental health. But who is? ...I now realize we are all misfits, at least to ourselves. We all secretly suspect we are freaks, uniquely burdened and especially crazy. Yet that doesn't mean we can't find our place on earth and come to feel loved and welcomed here. When we learn to face our pain and the pain of others, we start flourishing."
Pipher's memoir comes to a satisfying end as she learns to slow down her life, to listen to and accept her busy mind, thereby regaining her equanimity. She writes that she has put her very personal story on paper only because she thought it might help others and, after hearing her speak, I believe her. "Seeking Peace" is a provocative read, a story of one woman's truth. I think others will recognize many of these same truths in their own lives. I know I did.


  1. Loved the quote from the book! Did you read this or listen to it?

  2. Believe it or not, I actually read this one -- not that I didn't first try to find an audio version!