By Andrew Weil Little, Brown, 2011 Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D. on Nov 22nd 2011
Andrew Weil intentionally names his new book to resonate with the title of his previous one, Spontaneous Healing, to indicate that what keep us happy are the same internal spontaneous agencies that keep us healthy and healed. Self-healing is a fundamental principle of "integrative medicine," the long-time focus of Weil's research and writing, which are aimed at encouraging people to trust their own mind/body potential to tap into the healing power of their nature. This book extends Weil's argument from health and healing to happiness.
Weil's novelty resides in the founding position from which he launches his argument for holistic health. This is no claim to an essential Buddhanature, where bliss awaits our awakening. Rather, Weil admits that we are fluctuating creatures, the set point of our emotional compass not pointed at happiness or nirvana, but simple "contentment and the calm acceptance" of life's vicissitudes. Once we accept the reality of our fundamental "emotional sea level," then we may begin to expect and work with the normal and healthy variable range of moods and emotions, both positive and negative, as they pass across the days of our lives. "It is unrealistic to want to be happy all of the time," asserts Weil (p. 10). But if we begin from the expectation of fluctuating moods, within an acceptable spectrum of intensity, then we may actively seek out practical strategies for cultivating contentment and reaching an optimal level of serenity in our daily lives.
This book is a simple guidebook in service of that goal. Weil leads us toward the goal of emotional well-being under the metaphor of a journey. First he describes what the destination would look like—what are the features of emotional well-being. Next he outlines the causes and contours of the current epidemic of depression and anxiety in the modern industrialized world. Then he exposes the faulty ground of modern medicinal approaches to health, beginning from an examination of the limitations of the biomedical model that dominates psychiatry today, showing how and why it cannot help but poise doctors in favor of a drug-peddling approach to treatment of their depressed clients, rather than a more holistic methodology that might cultivate overall emotional balance and wellness. In this context, Weil then unfolds the promising emergent field of "integrative mental health" and demonstrates how its more helpful explanation for depression poises it for greater success in treating clients.
Weil then outlines for the reader a program for cultivating her own mental/physical well-being to support emotional resilience. Body-oriented therapies retrain and support the mind in order to alter the entrenched habits that function to undermine emotional health and keep us stuck in negative moods. Weil advocates that we take up a "secular spirituality" to bring a deeper more humanly meaningful element to our lives. Mood-soothing and mood-elevating music, positive psychology, mantra repetition, mindfulness and Ayurvedic practices, herbal remedies and a positive social milieu of cheerful, upbeat friends can be part of a new life-enhancing regimen to cultivate emotional wellness. The book ends with a nine week program for integrating these strategies into one's daily routine to change one's way of being and redirect one's emotional compass needle toward a happier set point.
Weil's new book is a great refresher course for his already enormous following of dedicated readers, but it also offers plenty of new suggestions for promoting optimal health along the integrative medical model.