What a joy to read.
First of all, let me just say that I am trepidatious in the extreme when it comes to psychologically-oriented books anymore. I read at least 10,000 self-help books on my way to and through age 40 (which was even before I hit Pacifica)! And since leaving Pacifica, I have been ruined for books and film. Not that I read too much while there: it’s that I read (and watched) so much excellence! Oy. It’s very hard for me to sit through a book or movie I don’t like anymore. Add to this my deep respect for Dr. Carol Pearson, and my enjoyment of her previous books, and now you understand why I was a little nervous about attempting to review her new work. What if I couldn’t sit through it?
Well, I needn’t have worried.
Let’s just start (again) with the title – Persephone Rising. As a woman, a former young woman, the mother of a young woman, and a friend to young women, the title provides a little thrill in and of itself. The word “rising” seems to invite more images: rising from obscurity, rising from depression, rising from repression, rising from – well, from being “down” in whatever way women have ever been down.
As I read through Pearson’s book, I came to see that it is much more than a self-help book or a treatise on the power of women:
Persephone Rising is a banquet of delicious stories, facts, anecdotes, images, insights, and activities. In addition to her vivid and scholarly exploration of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, Pearson also covers an exciting array of ancillary topics—including education, economic theory, history, political science, archaeology, medicine, and contemporary commercial culture. Pearson touches on issues like equality/inequality, historical change/stagnation, and social justice/racism.
And then she asks you to think about it.
Pearson begins her book by explaining in layman’s terms the concepts of archetypes, depth psychology, and the use of stories, including ancient ones, to help people negotiate life changes. Over the course of the narrative, Pearson skillfully moves her readers into the language of myth and depth psychology.
After a delightful re-telling of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, Pearson explains the importance of the presence of each of the characters in the tale. The book is organized almost like a workbook, with self-assessment questions, lists of goals, meditation/awareness exercises, and application exercises sprinkled at intervals across its sections. The sections include:
DEMETER AND THE WAY OF THE HEART
ZEUS AND THE WAY OF POWER PERSEPHONE
AND THE WAY OF TRANSFORMATION
DIONYSUS AND THE GIFT OF JOY
“I invite you to sort out archetypes within you that are family legacies, allies to support your individual gifts, or ones needed only in response to a particular situation. More generically, their stories also confront any of us with questions that help us find ourselves and our purpose.
“Demeter asks: ‘Who and what do you care about, and what does that require of you?’
“Zeus: ‘What are your talents and strengths, and how do you need to develop them to make your way in the world?’
“Dionysus: ‘What do you love to do, and what genuinely interests you?’
“And Persephone: ‘What does your intuitive sense of guidance tell you about whether this or that path or person is right or wrong for you?’”
Pearson, Carol. Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within.” San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015. [preview copy, p38]
I love how Pearson emphasizes LEARNING as we go through life, and that as we learn, we make adjustments on our path. This is so important! Many authors offer recipes or formulas for development, linear equations taking us from start to finish. Pearson reminds us that life-journeys unfold in unexpected and unplanned ways, and that far from being straightforward, life cycles almost mysteriously.
Within each section Pearson elucidates that character’s “lessons;” in other words, the strengths and challenges each character in the myth exemplifies for us. For instance within the section entitled ZEUS AND THE WAY OF POWER, Pearson divides the narrative into the following lessons:
- Lesson One: Overcoming the Fear That Fuels a Driven Life
- Lesson Two: Declaring Your Independence
- Lesson Three: Unleashing Your Passion, Focusing Your Actions
- Lesson Four: Regrouping and Rethinking as You Know More
- Lesson Five: Moving from Power Over to Power With
Each lesson is explained in terms of what it means in general, how it is shown in the myth, and how it can be seen/applied in contemporary life. A “capstone exercise” concludes every chapter, and offers a chance to pause and consider one’s own insights.
Pearson brings in examples from literature, such as Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice; contemporary authors like Meg Cabot’s young adult series Abandon; and the rich scholarship of psychologists including (but not limited to) Carol Gilligan, James Hillman, Marion Woodman, Ginette Paris, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Robert Johnson. Pearson also cites leaders in management like Sally Helgesen, Cheryl Sandberg, Margaret Wheatley, Sharon Hadary, and Laura Henderson.
Pearson places a fresh idea into the arenas of Power when she talks about power as gender partnership
, not power over
Films add sound and image to the interplay of words and imagination, and Pearson finds several examples that provide body and dimension to the principles she writes about, including Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and Luca Bigazzi’s The Great Beauty. The breadth and variety of examples from literature, film, and scholarship, added to Pearson’s own anecdotes and examples, leads to writing that is fun, scholarly, exciting, and insightful all at the same time.
Although Pearson’s recent work editing and contributing to scholarship on leadership and organizational management is valuable, it is also wonderful to see Pearson publishing in personal growth and Jungian psychology again, sowing fresh new fields with these timely, needed stories. Pearson’s writing has become even more fluid and enjoyable over time.
“As you begin to explore the stories of Demeter, Persephone, Zeus, and Dionysus in the following chapters, you will see how all four embody human qualities that are needed for wholeness today. Each narrative moves its characters from a relatively unconscious state to a more mindful expression of their essential gifts and offers challenges that spur them to grow and develop. The ultimate happy ending of their stories, however, comes from the interplay between them, just as today, in a radically interdependent world, our happy endings come not from simply getting what we want, but rather from the way our desires and those of others—and wild-card chance—come together.”
Pearson, Carol. Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within.” San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015. [preview copy, p56]
At the end of the book, the reader leaves with a set of deliciously imagined “women’s communication tools” to carry away:
• a sword (critical thinking skills)
• a shield (story vigilance)
• a grail (bliss/meaning) and
• a magic wand (transforming ability)
Using these tools, Pearson states, “The awakened heroine becomes the best she can be, not so much to triumph over others, but to contribute what only she can to realizing our human potential.” [preview copy, p56]
Carol S. Pearson, Ph.D., D.Min., is an internationally known authority on depth psychology and transformational leadership. A former President of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California, Dr. Pearson is the author of numerous books and monographs, including The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes To Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World; Magic at Work: Camelot, Creative Leadership, and Everyday Miracles; The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes (co-authored by Margaret Mark); Mapping the Organization Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change (co-authored by John Corlett); and The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the Twenty-First Century (ed.). Dr. Pearson also served as Professor of Leadership Studies in the School of Public Policy and the Director of the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
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