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by Phillip Moffitt
Hudson Street Press, 2012
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Dec 17th 2013
Emotional Chaos to Clarity is a fascinating book about journeying in life from emotional chaos to clarity. The author, Phillip Moffitt, is a Buddhist meditation teacher, founder of the Life Balance Institute, and a co-guiding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Northern California; Moffitt was formerly the CEO and editor in chief, of ESQUIRE magazine. As stated in the book's Introduction, Moffitt aspired, in writing the book, to help readers learn how to live more skillfully. The discerning discourse of Moffitt is funneled, in a relatively abstruse manner, through an intellectual funnel which is notably thoughtful, quite insightful, and tinged philosophically. The resultant literary concoction, brewed in intellectually delectable fashion in the writing cauldron of Moffitt, is laden insightfully and thoughtfully with insights, advice, and suggestions. The substantive body, moreover, is garbed distinctly with a psychoanalytical cloak; and strands of Buddhism and meditation contribute as well to the distinctive forming of the textual tapestry. There is truly much to be learned from a close reading of this edifying book.
The book, structurally, is configured into twenty chapters, bookended by an Introduction and Epilogue.
Following the Epilogue is a structural section (entitled "Online Resources"), in which Moffitt draws readers' attention to a website created by Moffitt for the purpose of providing ongoing support regarding living more skillfully; some features of the website are described pithily.
A distinctive structural custom, followed in the book, is to place structurally at a chapter's end a section composed either of a practice, a meditation, suggestions, questions, reflections, or else a self assessment evaluation, tethered firmly to a particular chapter's contents.
Anecdotal recounting of bits and pieces of the lives of numerous, real life persons, in a way connected germanely and instructively to the adjoining text, substantively enlivens the textual body. Regarding such persons, Moffitt explains, in the book's Introduction, that, to protect their privacy, Moffitt has changed their names, and sometimes details of their lives.
Some anecdotal, biographical details of Moffitt's life likewise contribute anecdotally, in an animating way, to the book's substantive composition.
Snippets, in the form of quotes taken from real life persons, further add anecdotally to the animating of the book's substance.
A delineation of the contours of "mindfulness" and also "intention", in the context particularly of commencing the journey from emotional chaos to clarity, is crafted quite skillfully by Moffitt, in Chapter 1.
The substantive crux, of Chapter 2, is thoughtful examination of the issue: Who am I? In Moffitt's view, a person is a unique combination of "capacities" and "values". As Moffitt explains, becoming mindful of one's capacities (which are shaped by one's values) results in the mind being less likely to be chaotic.
In the Epilogue, Moffitt counsels the rereading, of Chapter 2.
The thematic emphasis, of Chapter 3, is on the importance, in life, of intentions.
The cultivating of the practice of "starting over" (when one is not living from one's intentions) comprises the substantive essence, of Chapter 4.
With regard to emotional chaos in life, Moffitt, in Chapter 5, ponders cerebrally "the tyranny of expectations", and how a person can become unshackled from this tyrannical chain.
In following Chapter 6, Moffitt expounds principally on priorities, explaining that lack of clarity concerning priorities may be a major source of emotional chaos.
And then, in Chapter 7, the ever pensive gaze of Moffitt turns in the direction of the mindfulness practice of "starting your day with clarity", which, in Moffitt's view, may lessen the emotional chaos in a person's life.
Moffitt believes that, in order to minimize emotional chaos and sustain clarity, it is crucial for a person to develop the skill of distinguishing between experience and interpretation. And, in Chapter 8, Moffitt adds much flesh to the bones of experience and interpretation.
The making of skillful decisions is on centerstage, in Chapter 9. In this enframing context, Moffitt describes the stages of mindful decision making.
The illumining flashlight of Moffitt, in Chapter 10, illumines brightly the Buddhist meditation practices of "loving-kindness" and "compassion". As Moffitt discourses, a person's capacity to "self-soothe" may be increased by means of these practices.
The mindful cultivating of gratitude is at the heart, of Chapter 11. As evaluated by Moffitt, gratitude practice helps bring clarity to life; and it enables a person to "live into life".
In Chapter 12, Moffitt opines that attachments may be a source of emotional chaos; to gain more clarity, Moffitt prescribes the antidote of generosity.
Moffitt, in Chapter 13, draws readers' attention to doing the right thing in a person's daily life, with a resultant here and now sense of well being.
Rising to the fore, of Chapter 14, is mindfulness, in the specific context of making major life changes.
The careful scrutiny of Moffitt, in Chapter 15, is attracted especially to issues relating to boundaries, extending to comment on physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, "trespassing", and "enmeshment".
The ken, of Moffitt, in Chapter 16, revealingly sights self violence.
And, in Chapter 17, a revealing view of self restraint, as a counterbalance to ego centered desires, falls within the range of sight of Moffitt. Several renunciations are examined carefully.
Discourse riveting the eyes of readers on "ordinary compulsion" forms the substantive cynosure, of Chapter 18.
The crux of penultimate Chapter 19 is how to live skillfully with difficulties. In this enframing context, Moffitt cuts a swath across the area of "personal defeat".
And finally, in concluding Chapter 20, Moffitt proffers sage counsel, appertaining chiefly to forgiveness and also to reconciliation.
From a critical perspective, it may be opined critically that the qualitative musings of Moffitt, although imbued with much thoughtfulness and insightfulness, are not moored by the anchor of quantification.
And some of the views put forth compellingly by Moffitt may nonetheless not be shared unequivocally by particular readers.
The actual implementation, in real life terms, of the myriad suggestions embodied in the book may, as well, engender some skepticism.
But across the intellectual length and breadth of the book, there is plainly an intellectually refreshing abundance of thought provoking views, ideas, insights, and suggestions.
Indeed, the potential reading appeal and relevance of this book reaches universally.
At the stratum of professionals, Moffitt's discourse will likely especially pique the professional interest of psychotherapists and behavioral experts.
The eyes of readers with an interest in meditation, and in Buddhism, will also quite likely be glued firmly to the pages of the book.
© 2013 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare. Twitter @LeoUzych