Updated: Apr 30
Book Review: A 'self-development' book of a different kind.
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Most self-help, self-awareness or self-development books are all about positive thinking, affirmations, focusing on your goals, creating positive habits that will encourage you to work towards your goals and similar things that focus entirely on the things that you want for yourself.
This one does something else. The goal is the same: To achieve the best version of yourself and create abundance in all aspects of life. The method is different. Here you are not encouraged to 'manifest what you want' or 'think positive' or 'focus on your goals'. Instead, the work that Carolyn Elliot suggests we should do is focused on all the things we have in our lives that we seemingly don't want. Not only that, she claims that we have not only created these things ourselves but that we love it and indeed get a kinky kind of pleasure out of our 'misery'. Outrageous right?
Carolyn Elliot makes some bold statements that are not always easy to swallow. In fact, until about half way through the book, I gulped at some of her assessments of our subconscious. She'll write a statement like "" and it's not until I get through the paragraph (or page) that I begin to accept the truth of a difficult statement. After the first half, and having gone into some of her exercises more consciously, these initially bold statements, were no longer shocking, and really resonated with me. I had submitted to the fact that I indeed have a subconscious desire towards the 'negative' circumstances of my life and I'm just as she says another 'kinky cosmic slut'.
With all my openness towards accepting difficult truths, the first reaction that my mind produced was shame. To think that I enjoy the less desirable aspects of my life was, quite frankly, embarrassing. But when I focused on her methods of embodying the enjoyment I get from the crap in my life, I was shocked to discover that, detached from what my mind and feeling all bodily sensations, I was experiencing pleasure, excitement, thrill.
Following this transformation, her statements no longer made me cringe. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud with glee when I thought about my own kinky, and totally not ego acceptable, desires.
A Yogic Perspective
The author does make references to yogic traditions (and others) but her approach and exercises come from elsewhere. Nevertheless, as a yoga practitioner myself, I see many parallels. The idea that we need to accept our human existence in its entirety, without judging some things as 'good' and some as 'bad', and simply see things with all honesty and as they are, is really what yogic meditation (or zen meditation) is all about. It's about being in the moment, feeling your physical body and experiencing your human mind with full consciousness and without judgement. When you manage to do this you are able to let go of tension and transform. Carolyn Elliot ultimately speaks of the same thing. Her focus is on allowing the ugly truths of our sub-conscious step into the light by accepting and indeed loving them with passion.
The Final Score
I love many of the new-age ideas of the power of our minds. Positive affirmations, manifestations and the popular practices to 'bliss out' on life hold a lot of merit. But Existential Kink is great because it is honest. It doesn't teach you to "manifest your shit away" but makes you consciously "bathe" in it. It challenges commonly held perceptions of successful vs. unsuccessful lives and legitimises all ways of existence. She does this by handing over the power to the individual. You don't only have the power to create your own life, you are doing it all the time. Everything you are, good and bad, is produced by your own alchemical power.
The book makes me laugh. Elliot, spells out things that most of us would be too embarrassed to. But the truth of it is exhilarating, amusing and liberating. The soul work outlined in Existential King was, for me, the missing piece in the modern mindful movement of self development.