Ahhh….there’s nothing more enticing than an open span of time and a good book. This past holiday break, I did a lot of reading. For fun mostly. I read what I like to call “brain candy” books, you know…the kind of books that don’t have a lot of substance, but are a fun read, full of silliness, mystery and adventure…?
Right now, I’m reading some sci-fi books that are a nice distraction for the daily grind. I’m having fun!
I’ve always been a reader, even as a little kid. It was rare to not find me with my head buried in a book, whenever I wasn’t outside or roaming around the neighborhood. Books have always been a HUGE support for me both as distractions and escapes but also as teachers and guides.
There have been so many wonderful books in my life, that I’ve decided to start sharing some of my favorites with you each month. I love learning and am constantly doing so, so from time to time, I might throw in a podcast, movie, piece of art or music with you too. Today though, I want to share a little bit with you about one of my earliest formative books that I read when I was an adolescent; a book that was a powerful impetus of change in my life.
The book is Alice Koller’s story, “An Unknown Woman”. This book was so powerful for me that I read it several times in a row because it touched me so deeply at a young and impressionable age.
I remember finding this book around the time that I was an adolescent and not only struggling with the impact of all the life changes hitting me, but also the impact of my parents’ impending divorce.
Being disillusioned about life and its ability to improve (for a variety of reasons), I came across this book and was initially intrigued because of its cover: a woman walking along the beach with her dog. For me, it’s always the first few sentences that either grab me or do not and as I flipped this book open, I found myself drawn in immediately.
I think that what blew my mind the most was that this is a story about Alice’s own grappling with the big life questions of “who am I’, “why am I here”, “how do I live”, “what is motivating me”. It is the story of her courageous journey inward, in which she chooses (chooses!!!!!!) to leave behind everything that she’s ever known, in an attempt to find herself.
I had never come across anyone that lived as honestly and passionately towards themselves as Alice described in her story. There is so much that impacted me from this book, but one of the things that I admired the most was her willingness to put it all on the line.
She shared about the need to give everything up in order to start over with a life defined by herself and what she really needed to be satisfied, not by the prescriptions and dictates from society and other people. Unbelievable.
Much like shelling along the beach, Alice described stopping at every place in her life, turning it over to understand what that experience was about in order to make an honest, authentic and brave decision to hold on to it or clear it out to make room for something new and more fitting.
What was so compelling for me was that she was willing to do this all alone too. She chose to rent a cottage by the sea, learn to rely on herself and her own supports, along with a new puppy that she adopted for companionship. As she tore back the layers of her life that had helped her survive until then, she shared about having no “old way” to go back to and how frightening and disorienting this was to her. I understood this process in some deep unconscious place inside of me. This practice deeply resonated.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what she was referencing was the process of moving out of role layer and into a place of deeper connection with herself. It’s what growth is all about- being willing to leave behind the comfort of the old and familiar ways in order to deepen one’s experience of being alive.
One of my favorite selections in the book is at the beginning of page 200 in which she says,
“I haven’t really lived this life that’s lasted thirty-seven years.
I’ve only played at living it, pretending I’ve been alive, saying
and doing things to let other people believe that I’m alive.
But the joke’s on me. Because now that I’ve stopped playing
the game, there isn’t anything real to take its place.”
Wow. Incredible. At this point in my life as a pre-teen, I had never considered that there could be more layers to life than what I had experienced so far. This blew my experience WIDE open. And was kind of frightening to consider too.
If there was someone out there, grappling with how to become more ‘real’, then there was a chance that there was another dimension of me that I hadn’t even begun to tap into. I wanted that for myself.
Which is why I read this book over and over and over at that time in my life. It became one of my earliest conscious supports that helped bolster me and move me through life during a tumultuous time.
I am forever grateful to Alice Koller for this book and for sharing her story of going inward and deeply searching for the person she was meant to be in this lifetime. I truly believe that this book had a deep impression upon me choosing to become a psychotherapist for my life’s work.
I believe that the choice to become a therapist was already within me and that upon discovering this courageous story, this book helped me bring it to light.
Definitely one of my top 10 books in this lifetime.