Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life by Sarah Ban Breathnach

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Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life by Sarah Ban Breathnach

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A book to turn to in times of crisis for comfort and joy. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: January 1995
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1538731734

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A new revised edition of this book has been published, but this relates to the original, which was sub-titled a 'daybook of comfort and joy' and published way back when one had to explain what a duvet is. This is one of my favourite books. This is what I said about it in 2006. I'd already had a while by then. My copy is falling apart, and I love it. I'm re-reading it now because I was having a bad day or three back at the beginning of May and this was the one that called out to me.

Someone once said: it's not self-indulgence, it's therapy! I think they were talking about shopping, but it probably can be applied to most things. In my case, it applies to writing about things because I want to, rather than because I can sell it or because I've got something to sell.

I would like to share a favourite book with you. Most of you are not going to like it. But that's ok, because most of you are not going to end up anywhere nearer to it than you are now. So – for those who are perfectly happy, have found the meaning of life, or at least the meaning of your own life – look away now. This is not for you.

Sadly, I should probably add that those of you, who just happen to be male, can be excused as well. Not because there's 'nothing here for the likes of you' but just because the book does have a very feminine slant. Whilst I believe its truths are universal, the language and metaphors used are quite deliberately female. This is a book by a woman, for women. I suspect you would find it twee, or sentimental, or even just plain silly. (I would say: “Sorry Guys!”...but actually, if you can find an excuse to have it on our bookshelf, you might find a nugget or two…if nothing appeals to you personally, take a sneaky-peek at the end notes to each chapter and find a host of inspired ways to worm yourself into your lady's undying devotion!)

I came to this book by way of a recommendation in something else I was reading. I'm not sure which of the self-help, personal-development, management-technique books it was (I've been through the catalogue!)… but whoever I was reading at the time, I was almost certainly reading because I was lost, or miserable, or stressed, or sinking. Be honest…we don't look for help when we're happy, do we? So there was nothing serendipitous about this book – I went looking for it. I was right to do so because it's a book that I repeatedly go back to whenever I feel lost, or miserable, or stressed, or sinking…

Enough indulgence…on to Abundance.

Sarah Ban Breathnach's “Simple Abundance” is subtitled “A Daybook of Comfort & Joy”. A daybook is such an old-fashioned idea. Little homilies written for little women who couldn't possibly confront the big issues in life and in the world. Except of course that Little Women grow up…and we've always been there on the battle-lines, one way or another. There is nothing in this book which says 'thou shalt not go to war and carry a submachine gun'; nothing which says 'thou shalt not become CEO of the largest global company on planet Earth' – although everything between the lines suggests that just maybe you'd rather not! Sarah is everything I am not – and few things I even want to be. She's a writer, a wife, a mother, a cook, a homemaker a self-confessed homebody who 'doesn't need to travel far to seek adventures'. It doesn't actually say so, but I bet she goes to church on Sundays…I bet her brand of spirituality is hometown Christian. There's nothing wrong with any of that – I merely tell you this, because it's so far from who I am: single, child-free, working hard ('career-woman' suggests ambitions I don't have!) with an abiding passionate seldom-met need to travel a very long way to seek adventures. My brand of spirituality is free-form, intuitive – more mother nature than holy father. And yet she speaks to me. I hear her, and listen to her, and learn from her – and I heal my life a little.

The Book: is a daybook.

For every single day of the year, there is a short tract. It begins with a quotation, which might be poetry or prose, is always succinct (no more than a couple of sentences or four lines of verse), and which encapsulates or amplifies the thought for the day.

The 'thought' for each day is a very short essay – sometimes only a couple of paragraphs, never more than a couple of pages. They are 'kinda' grouped thematically month by month – so that in January, for example, you get reflections which are basically centred around 'beginnings' – re-ordering your life, thinking about your needs and your wants and the difference between the two. There's an assumption that you will come to the book in January – and a request that even if you don't that you'll start reading there anyway. June spends much time talking about gardens and fruits and flowers. Yet it is only a 'kinda' grouping because you can never tell when SBB will wander off to talk about something else: a stressful day, car parking, paying bills – or making curtains, playing at the beach.

At the end of each month (which is the one thing wrong with this book – they should be at the beginning!) is a list of 'joyful simplicities': wonderful fun, cheap'n'cheerful (if not absolutely free) things to do this month just to celebrate being alive, being on planet earth, being you. For a flavour: June offered 'remember ice cream is good for the soul'…or camp out in your back yard…lie back & look at the stars.

The book has a purpose: which is to remind us that we are more than our driven selves. Yes, we want all the goodies on offer, but we don't have to crucify ourselves in the process of reaching for them. We should take stock of we actually need, and what we merely want, and redirect our energies accordingly. In her foreword, Sarah explains that she only discovered this by actually writing the book – which started out as another de-clutter, time-manage, organise your life treatise.

Simple Abundance seeks to encourage us to journey inwards and find out who we really are, and then to journey back out in the world to be that person. Along the way, it seeks to encourage the spiritual part of us, the creative, the fun. It seeks to remind us that however affluent we may or may not be has no bearing upon how abundant our lives are. Sarah never quite gets away from her original aim, however, and there are plenty of practicalities dotted amongst the more esoteric musings: quoting William Morris “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” is the declutter injunction of all time. She talks about foraging: in the hedgerows and the junk shops. She talks about making do and mending…but she also talks about indulging in that particular pair of shoes that you really cannot do without…once in a while.

Her musings are lessons but not lectures. They are personal musings, only some of which will have any relevance to our individual lives, but most of which can provoke a personal meditation on our own authenticity – even if only to justify our stand against her. It is a simple and gentle book…which is as it should be, for it advocates a simple and gentle life.

So do I read it religiously? A page a day, to be meditated on for a requisite period? Oh yes…generally for about a week. Then something will grasp my attention and I will want to be reminded where it leads and I will read for a week or so ahead. Or I will be led back to my own centre and get on with my life in my own way, and the book will gradually migrate from the breakfast table back to the bookshelf in the study, where it will await the next time I get out of kilter.

If the world is too much with you, take a few days journey on the path of simple abundance discovering the principles of gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy. It works for me.

You might also appreciate Why Do You Think You Are? by Pauline Turner or Encyclopedia Paranoiaca by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf.

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