Understanding Human Nature: A User's Guide to Life by Richard Brook

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Understanding Human Nature: A User's Guide to Life by Richard Brook

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A well-laid out, clear and balanced synopsis of key elements from various healing traditions and philosophies. An excellent primer for those new to areas like the Chakras, the 5 Elements, free-movement etc – easy to read and provided with useful charts and illustrations, based on the author’s lived experience & recognising that we are all different: what works for one won’t work for all.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 264 Date: April 2021
Publisher: Matador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1800461680

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I am a firm believer that sometimes we choose books, and sometimes books choose us. In my case, this is one of the latter. Not so very long ago, if I had come across this book I'd have skimmed it, found some of it interesting, but it would not have 'hit home' in the way that it does now. I believe it came to me not just because I was likely to give it a favourable review [ full disclosure The Bookbag's u.s.p. is that people chose their own books rather than getting them randomly, so there is a predisposition towards expecting to like the book, even if it doesn't always turn out that way ] – but also because it is a book I needed to read, right now.

Just to complete the full disclosure, I am a recovering self-help junkie. I have been through the whole spectrum of books. The best ones are still on my shelves, dog-eared and scrawled on and loved till their pages fall out. The others have been scrapped. More scrapped than loved, because over those years I've begun to understand myself better, know what works for me and what doesn't – and also because in more recent years my life has taken a significant directional shift. This isn't by way of me rambling, it is important in the context of Richard Brook's approach because unlike many of the works in this arena he is balanced, holistic and non-prescriptive.

Essentially Understanding Human Nature is a synthesis of what Brook has learned over 25 years working in yoga, meditation, Chinese medicine, dance, Native American mysticism, tantra and just generally trying to live a life. He pulls together various philosophies in an integrative manner, not comparing and contrasting specifically but seeking to show how each of them can support us as individuals during our life as human beings.

Unlike many of the texts in this arena, he focuses on the human. Whilst a lot of the explanations go to what are commonly called the spiritual disciplines: the Tao, Meditation, Yoga, Chakras, Shamanic practices, YinYang, the 5 Elements, and other specific disciplines he pulls out the threads of how these ideas show up for those of us living modern lives in the western world. Clearly, if you have a resistance to notions of the soul, or energy fields, or holistic approaches to healing and life in general, then there is nothing in here that is likely to change your mind. On the other hand, if you are open to the 'maybe' of these things, then Brook explains them in ways and uses personal stories to demonstrate connections that might open you up further, and if you're already on that path then there are some clear charts and diagrams, simple explanations and perhaps connections you'd not made or had lost that will be helpful reminders/new-learning and certainly ways of teaching that might help in your spreading the word.

Getting into specifics, I'll start with a few negatives – it's always good to get them out of the way early…

Although in general, I love the chatty tone of the book, I would like the editor of the next edition to go through with a red pen and remove all of the exclamation marks! I will take one or two now & then for emphasis, but there are sections so littered with them that it starts to read like a teenager's email and that does the value of the text a disservice.

Throughout the text there are lots of signposts to relevant blogs and online resources. All good, but personally I found the way these are presented a little ingratiating. For more on….please visit this blog… It sounds ok the first time you read it, but after a while it grates. On a more practical level, they are scattered through-out and I would find it more useful to have a Further reading list at the end of each chapter.

And finally in this particular vein – and this one is just my personal philosophy – I do wish we could get away from the erroneous idea that humans are super-special and the only species that has self-awareness or imagination. The simple fact is that we cannot yet know how much self-awareness a tree or pike has, but anyone who has lived with cats or studied any of the primates knows these species are self-aware, that they learn and teach, and that they dream which implies that they also have imagination. The fact that we're not yet super-special enough to fully communicate with them, means we cannot be sure what goes on in their heads. We can talk about human capability and facility and potential without having to play to the arrogance of man that we are the only ones around who have it. [ Climbs down off hobby-horse - the relevance is that stance early in the book had me veering away from the author in oh, here we go mode. Fortunately, I stook with it. ]

Enough of that, let's talk about what I love.

I love the synthesis between the different cultures and especially the acknowledgement that we in the West live in different environments with different stresses and different opportunities.

I love the acknowledgement that we are all different and so what works wonders for one person might be detrimental for another. One of my teachers keeps reminding me that you train to your condition – essentially no teacher can tell you what is right for you, you have to engage with the process to understand your own needs and limitations – Brook repeatedly points out that if one approach doesn't work for you, keep experimenting with others until you find the one that does, whilst at the same time reinforcing the fact that practice and consistency cannot be avoided if you want to progress. Discipline is part of every single one of the options.

I love the charts and diagrams that provide reference points for things that I am learning other contexts. Whilst these might be over-simplifications, for those of us at the beginning of this exploration they are really helpful.

Naturally, I was drawn more to the chapters on the things I am already exploring The 5 Elements (which is Chinese in origin) and the Chakras (which come from the Indian tradition) – and the movement aspects – he particularly talks about Dance, but I can see the correlations with Tai Chi and Rope Flow - and equally naturally I am less interested in the things that I am resisting such as Yoga, which is a key area of Brooks' focus. On that last point though he does share the important knowledge that to talk about Yoga is akin to talking about 'Sport' – it is something of a catch-all term and many of us the west may be alienated to the idea (guilty as charged) without understanding the full spectrum of disciplines involved.

Brook is balanced when talking about the role of the ego on the spiritual side of life, and particularly encouraging in terms of allowing the Mind a key role in integrating everything else, where many other philosophies are more rigid about transcending such things.

The chapter on relationships is particularly engaging and certainly explains one or two things from my personal experience.

The subtitle calls this a User's Guide – I would think of it as more of a Beginner's Guide – the information is clear and simply explained, and tied back to reality at all points, but it necessarily doesn't go into great depth or detail in any of the areas. This is necessarily the case in terms of maintaining the tone of the book and the valid point that this is about the author's lived experience rather than a theoretical exposition. I have a number of page-corners turned down and know that I will be back to the illustrations & charts again and again.

I would say this one has earned its place on my shelf, but I have a suspicion it will get even more dog-eared before it makes its way there. Good stuff.

For thoughts on the links between the ancient philosophies and modern science, we can recommend How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser - or for another take on the wellness approach to living you might also enjoy Life 2 the Full by Raymond Floodgate. You might also enjoy The Philosophy of the Universe and the Dimensions of the Multiverse by Aaron Joseph Olivier. If you were thinking of opening a wellness business you might find this useful.

Booklists.jpg Understanding Human Nature: A User's Guide to Life by Richard Brook is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2021.

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