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An Underrated Book Review: Diana, Herself by Martha Beck

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.

An Allegory of Spiritual Awakening

I stumbled across this book in my copy of O Magazine, where Martha Beck has a column that she writes monthly. I was intrigued by Beck's writing to a point where I looked up the book description and immediately had to buy it! Diana, Herself is an allegory of one woman's spiritual awakening. In a sense, it is everyone's story - Diana is mathematically average! In the story, Diana loses her retail job that never truly fulfilled her and ends up going on a trip in the California wilderness, discovering her true nature and experiencing miracles along the way (complete with talking animals). I noticed many parallels between my life and Diana's just from reading the book description.

Most of us know about The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho as another allegory of spiritual awakening. In it, the protagonist thinks the end goal of his journey is to see the Egyptian pyramids and get the girl, but in the end, he gets much more than that. Similarly, Diana thinks her end game is to end up with a hot guy she sees on TV and get a glamorous new job that fulfills her, heart and soul. But she, also, gets much more than that. She gets herself, her truest self, not the mask she has worn to fit into society.

And if you are the spiritual sort, you know that is the ultimate Gift of the Universe.

So let's dive in, shall we?

Nature is a Healer

Beck is a huge fan of nature and also mentions it in her book, "Finding Your Way in a Wild New World." In her books, she discusses nature as a healer and a way spiritual seekers can get in touch with themselves.

Beck is a huge fan of nature and also mentions it in her book, "Finding Your Way in a Wild New World." In her books, she discusses nature as a healer and a way spiritual seekers can get in touch with themselves.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

It may be, beloved, that you've gone through something similar to this: a surge of destiny so strong it made you believe in miracles. Such bolts from the blue seem to hit when weariness or ill fortune have plowed through the ground of reason, breaking it up so that magic can take root. What follows is so perfect that to call it accidental defies reason. You're rejected by your first-choice college, only to find the perfect mentor at the one you didn't want. After missing a plane, you meet another stranded passenger who becomes your best friend. An unwelcome job transfer takes you to the city that turns out to be your favorite place on earth. This is often how destiny finds us as a storm of desolation leading to a bright discovery.

This is a paragraph from one of the early chapters and sets the premise that the whole book is based upon: you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need (as the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it). Sometimes, there is something much better than that thing you think you want.

And what does Diana, our protagonist, want? Well, at the beginning, she wants a way to make sure she can support herself after she loses her job at the Super Big Mart. She is so completely devastated, however, that she doesn't know where to start. As she's watching TV one night, she flips to The Nightly Show where a TV star, Roy Richards, is giving an interview. She is instantly captivated by Roy and quickly devours his material, finding it inspirational and relatable. Then her mission becomes a little different: she wants to meet Roy Richards and begin a relationship with him.

And isn't this how many of our spiritual journeys start? They can be borne of a relationship that we want so badly, something more powerful than any other relationship we've been in. Our complete fascination with one person can be wonderful, but it can also lead to consequences so devastating that we have no choice but to search for the deeper meaning behind it. What purpose does such pain serve? This indeed was how my own ascension began. It was through a relationship that broke me so much that I knew there had to be something deeper behind it. That was what got me searching for answers, the very answers that led me to this beautiful masterpiece by Beck.

Spirit Animals

In the story, Diana thinks she is losing her mind when she meets a boar who evidently is her spirit animal and can talk to her.

In the story, Diana thinks she is losing her mind when she meets a boar who evidently is her spirit animal and can talk to her.

The Tasks

During a trip to the Sierras Oscuras National Forest with Roy, through a disastrous event, Diana becomes separated from her counterpart. Just as she feels on the brink of death and is about to give up hope, she meets a black boar who can talk. She thinks she has gone mad, but the boar turns out to be pleasant (even if very puzzling) company for Diana. The boar asks Diana to call her Herself, another detail rich with meaning in this deeply symbolic story. Herself guides Diana through a series of tasks, which include learning how to calm fear, discerning goodness from poison, telling the truth, and letting go enough to allow the more intuitive side of herself take over.

Again, these are all skills and ways of being that are not taught to us growing up. We are taught to use the logical, rational part of our brains to go after what we are told we should want: a high-paying and prestigious job, a big house with a white picket fence, fancy material possessions, a suitable marital partner (even if we don't feel quite certain we love them). Many of us live in fear of not having or being Enough, or we live to please others. Diana, who has learned to think this way, must unlearn. And that is exactly what she does through each of the Tasks.

Why I Loved This Story

I won't spoil the story for you, but I do want to give a few reasons why I loved this story so much.

  • I found it completely relatable to the twin flame journey. No, perhaps Diana and Roy are not true twin flames, but her fascination with him is what brings on her spiritual awakening and her becoming Herself. And those of us who are familiar with twin flames know this concept is about exactly that. Diana also embodies the divine feminine, which is revealed later in the story.
  • It's not all roses after Diana meets Herself. Even after learning each of the Tasks, she is challenged by fear and moments where she has major doubts that any of that love and feeling with your heart stuff is even true. She is about to settle for what she thinks she can have rather than what she wants with all her heart - and many of us have "relapsed" into this way of being even after having an awakening. It is natural and human, and the way this story portrays it is so very realistic.
  • I found it at a time when I had reached rock bottom and needed some inspiration to get back on my spiritual path. I knew my 9-5 job just wasn't cutting it anymore, that I woke up every day feeling meaningless, and that it was time to go on and find myself. It was time to rediscover my purpose and learn more about why I'm here. This is a great book for those times in life, and as we grow and mature, we will have many such dilemmas. This is a great book when you need to remind yourself that love is all there really is (even when all the fears and doubts are screaming at you).
  • The writing is brilliant. Beck gives rich descriptions of nature and the ends of the chapters always made me want to read more. I finished this entire book (almost 300 pages) in three days. I read on the reviews that some devoured it even more quickly. (If not for my job and day-to-day responsibilities, I probably would have done the same.)

If you loved The Alchemist, do yourself a favor and read this book!

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© 2018 Holley Hyler