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From Stress to Serenity - Gaining Strength in the Trials of Life

by by Angus Jenkinson

listed in stress

[Image: From Stress to Serenity - Gaining Strength in the Trials of Life]

On the one hand this is a great book. It's an interesting and enjoyable read. It's more than a straightforward 'how to' manual. It is well-written by a passionate and erudite author. And it engages with the subject of stress at a deep holistic level. For practitioners, the clear structure of the book is useful, enabling us to pick out ideas or issues that interest us. But any practitioner who took only a simple 'pick and mix' approach here would miss out on the richness of the full journey.

On the other hand a person currently in stress and looking for a self-help book might find this richness a little too much to cope with, particularly as the advice and exercises are not always easy to separate out from among the opinion and commentary.

The message of the book is that self-awareness and self-responsibility are key to dealing with stress, and that adopting this approach turns stress into a tool for personal development. Responsibility for the self manifests in our ability to recognize that we have choice in every situation we face. Whatever absences of choice there are (for example, in being made redundant), we have a choice in how we think about the matter (for example, whether we indulge in victim mentality or look for the opportunities). This is nothing new. It has been a mainstay of NLP for the past 30 years. However, what is new and different is the way the ideas are presented.

The title of the book, From Stress to Serenity and the subtitle Gaining Strength in the Trials of Life implies a journey. This journey metaphor is emphasized in the structure of the book. Starting with "The Mission of Stress" and its role as a guide in our life journey, we are taken through reflections on the self and reflections on the outer world to the point at which we are "Crossing thresholds" by engaging with the trials of life.

Jenkinson is a capable guide through the world of stress. He takes us to the main features: for example, Work, Other People, Meditation. And he points out the interesting diversions and parallel tracks. So, for example, in Chapter 9, When People Send us Crazy, the main features are conflict, personal responsibility and healing. Along the way, we are treated to insights and opinions on world politics, great poets from many cultures, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Rudolf Steiner, reincarnation, karma, Confucius, Marshal Rosenberg's non-violent communication, and much more. This is what makes the book distinct from the norm. Instead of relying on popular science, sociology/business research and anecdote (all these are included) the author brings in philosophy, religion, politics, culture.

Two chapters in particular have this richness of ideas. Chapter 5, How Stress Creates Self-leadership takes astrological signs as the paradigm for the different kinds of stress and the qualities we need to cultivate in order to cope with those stresses. And Chapter 10, Trials that Guide Us to our Higher Self categorises the different trials of life (such as grief) according to the elements of air, fire and water.

But this is where my discomfort with the book creeps in. (I have to say this is only a minor quibble, for this is a book that will reward re-reading and further study.) At times there can be so much going on that it feels like being buffeted by a flood or a whirlwind of ideas. For example, in one chapter (Chapter 9, p. 183) in the space of five lines there are references to Christ, Krishnamurti, Blake and Rosenberg. In chapter 5 each astrological sign is related to an interval on the musical scale.

The book does contain useful exercises and practical advice on how to control stress and use it as a tool for personal development. The advice ranges from getting enough sleep to eating organic foods and wearing comfortable shoes (honest). And it is backed up with reasons why we should do these things. Sometimes, in stating his opinion or giving advice Jenkinson refers to academic studies and it would have been interesting to have had the references to these, so we could find out more if we wanted.

For many of the exercises I get the impression that Jenkinson is indebted to Steiner, but he clearly draws on many influences as the exercises range from the practical (e.g. memory exercises) to the more inwardly focused (e.g. meditation).

The fact that many of the exercises and ideas on dealing with stress are buried within the body of the text sometimes adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed as, one minute we are grappling with ideas and the next we are engaging in activity without as it were, space for reflection.

The cover says this is "an enlightening workbook as well as a thought-provoking analysis of the roots of stress and its meaning for our personal and spiritual development". It is certainly the latter, and well-worth investing in to gain a deeper understanding of stress and enhance your approaches to dealing with it.

Craig Brown
Published by Sophia Books.
ISBN 1-85584-157-6.

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