Book Review: Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017)

September 19th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Writing Exercises for Self-Discovery

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for client case studies that sometimes include disturbing incidents, including rape.)

When I was a child and magic was afoot, the word abracadabra was synonymous with the power of manifestation. I could wave my magic wand over Doris the princess doll, or Boris the stuffed panda, and practically feel them come to life under the gravitas of the spell. Later in life, as a Harvard-trained scientist and researcher in the field of mind-body medicine, I discovered that abracadabra is more than magic-speak or a song by the Steve Miller Band. These Aramaic words mean, “I will create as I speak.”

Tell a story. Believe the story. And voila! It manifests in your cells, your brain, your heart, your behavior, and the choices you make…or don’t. We embody our stories quite literally, as these days we have the brain scans and hormonal assays to prove it. Mark Matousek, who is a writer rather than a scientist, knows this as well. He sometimes refers to us humans as Homo Narrans—the storytelling species. Stories slay and stories heal. Their transformative magic resides in our ability to identify them, learn from them, and—when necessary—change them.

– Joan Borysenko, PhD (“Foreword”)

— 3.5 stars —

I picked up a copy of Writing to Awaken about the same time as Getting Grief Right; I thought that the two books, when taken together, might provide some guidance in using journaling and storytelling to cope with the recent loss of my husband – and perhaps figure out what comes next for me.

Divided into twelve chapters and forty-eight “lessons,” Matousek challenges the reader to dive deeper; to find the truth behind your life story, which is often unreliable, watered down for mass consumption, and altered to omit certain uncomfortable truths. Though I suppose the exercises could help to overcome writer’s block, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional writer to find value here. Rather, Writing to Awaken is for anyone interested in journaling with a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and radical truth telling.

Writing to Awaken turned out to be a weird combination the expected/unexpected for me. I found many of the exercises intriguing, but felt the writing to be a little grating. In keeping with the book’s cover art and copy, Writing to Awaken has a hippy-dippy, New Age vibe to it. Not necessarily/entirely a bad thing, though certain prompts had me cringing. (“Try to imagine your own conception. Conjure the primal scene in your mind, your parents’ bodies thrashing together. What are they thinking?” Really? What were they thinking? What was the author thinking? Thanks for an image I’ll never get out of my head.) Additionally, the rehashing of key concepts at the end of each section seemed like overkill, especially when each section isn’t all that long.

I also wasn’t too keen on the author’s judgey attitude toward a couple who survived the Holocaust only to instill a feeling of “paranoia” in their adopted daughter (because it’s not like Nazis are still a thing, amirite people?), while simultaneously insisting that it’s not his place to judge a client who just so happens to be a registered sex offender. Like, wtf? Maybe choose another case study?

I think what really rubbed me the wrong way, though, was trying to read the book cover-to-cover for review purposes, which turned out to be h*cka tedious. These prompts are really meant to be tackled over a period of weeks and months – if not years. Seriously, there’s a lot of heavy stuff in here!

Even though I stopped reading at the 50% mark, I did copy and paste all of the lessons into a Word file for later use. Probably I won’t bother with them all – see: parents having sex, above – but quite a few of them looked stimulating and incisive, at least at first glance.


Table of Contents

Foreword vii
Introduction 1

Part One: Who Am I?
1 Lifting the Veil 9
2 Touching the Shadow 27
3 Your True Face 45

Part Two: Exploring the Story
4 Demons at the Gate 63
5 The Question of Meaning 81
6 Love Invents Us 95

Part Three: Dropping the Mask
7 Social Persona 113
8 Learning from Loss 129
9 The Wisdom of Intention 143

Part Four: Awakening
10 Awakening Genius 159
11 Meeting the Sacred 177
12 Begin Again 193

Acknowledgments 212
Bibliography 213


(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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