Search This Blog

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review: The Underside of Joy

I recently read Sere Prince Halverson's novel, The Underside of Joy. There must be something about this book because since it's first printing in 2012, it's been published in eighteen languages! Obviously a bit of buzz has been created. At first glance I wasn't all that interested but it was recommended to me by someone who really knows her literature and is also very in tune to what I would appreciate reading. So I took it.  I let it sit on the shelf for a bit.  I picked it up once or twice but decided it was too serious to suit my mood and put it down again. Finally, I picked it up on a stormy day, started reading, and couldn't put it down.

It's a novel set in a small town in Northern California.  The main character Ella, really gets to this town by chance or destiny and her entire life suddenly changes in what seems to be a very good way.  Then unexpected tragedy occurs and she finds much of her new found joyous life is a bit of a facade. The jacket cover of the book describes the story as:
"The Underside of Joy explores a complex relationship between two women who both consider themselves to be the children's mother. Their conflict uncovers a map of scare- physical and emotional- to their familes' deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during WWII and postpartum depression and psychosis."
None of the characters in this book like conflict. Neither do I. That's why it took me so long to read it and I kept pushing it aside for something lighter, happier, easy. Something that wouldn't make me think. Hmm...

From the minute I started reading the book, I realize this novel is an amazingly accurate case study for the Bach Flower essence Agrimony.  Agrimony types avoid conflict at all costs.  They cover up potential conflict or the "dark side" of life with jokes and a mask of happiness. They often appear carefree and humorous. They make light of things rather than enter into a confrontation. As Ella realizes, the Agrimony response can be a learned behavior embedded in families as a method of coping and dealing, or not dealing, with anxieties and worries.  It is a learned avoidance behavior.

Agimony types are often very sociable. They seek company as a distraction. Sometimes they are the life of the party, the seemingly happy gregarious family that "has it all".  But deep down there can be a lot of worry and true inner torment that has been carried, buried, turned away from, and ignored, for generations. Agrimony families may suppress their discomfort with the aid of heavy drinking, the use of drugs or, as in Ella's family, comfort eating. They continuously try to find that layer of insulation from the bad.

In, Bach Flower Remedies Form & Function, Julian Barnard writes that Agrimony grows in places where you would find people or activity such as along the roadside, or paths where people would walk, but each plant is quite solitary. Agrimony doesn't "bunch together" like many flowers.  Each plant stands distinctly on it's own. Barnard writes, like the plant, Agrimony types are very sensitive in nature and they absorb the problems, worries and anxieties of the world and of past generations as well as their own.  It would seem that's what Ella discovers in her family as well.  At first glance it appears they are one "big happy family" and yet, there are very distinct, unique separations and tangles of absorption in there as well.

We are often encouraged to "think positive", seek the goodness in people, and draw positive energy towards us.  Ideas like the "law of attraction" encourage people to attach to positive energy and avoid the negative. Hmm...  Are we growing a bunch of Agrimony in that idea?

What Ella learns is that, to some extent you have to face the darker side of life. To be truly happy, rather than having a mask of happiness, you have to shine your light in the shadows, face reality and admit that some parts of life aren't that pleasant or easy.

What Ella and her family members discover is that by admitting to, sorting through, and talking about problems and conflict they find new strength. Once the false layers are revealed, the deep wounds can actually be addressed and in time, healed.

Agrimony types have insight and knowledge of the world but they try to not work with that.  They suppress emotion and pretend to not see what they really know. The lesson for Agrimony types, as for Ella's family, is that it is only through understanding that we can transcend the pain of the world. Hmm... Perhaps that is the lesson for all... 

So, as I read the book I wanted to give all of the characters a few drops of Agrimony. They didn't actually need that, they were working through the lesson, but it might have helped them on the journey.  It's a story about changing patterns and finding the light as a result.

Taking Agrimony won't make you want to start watching the news more intensely, or join a picket line, or "save the world" by joining a cause against something else. But it may help you find your own unresolved, covered up, pain.  It may help you express your emotions when faced with conflict so you can maintain your path and grow as a result. It will help you stand up for yourself and communicate you feelings, accepting that life does have a less pleasant side sometimes. Dr. Bach wrote that Agrimony, "enables you to hold peace in the presence of all trials and difficulties until no one has the power to cause you irritation".

By facing conflict, Ella is able to find, perhaps create, true transformation. I'm glad I faced the conflict enough to delve into her story.  I was transformed by the read!

No comments:

Post a Comment