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What About the Big Stuff?    by Richard Carlson order for
What About the Big Stuff?
by Richard Carlson
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Richard Carlson is of course well known for his Don't Sweat the Small Stuff bestsellers. This time he addresses the big stuff, giving gentle advice to help with inner healing, as he reminds us that 'the best antidote to pain is joy.' Big stuff that is covered includes fear of change and the unknown, divorce, ageing, illness and injury, financial setbacks, conflict with teens, retirement, and death of a loved one.

With respect to the world situation, Carlson advises us to 'prepare and let go' - to get ready for potential crises, but then release anxiety about them. On ageing, the author quotes Wayne Dyer, advising the perspective of self as 'a spiritual being having a human experience'. He recommends applying the same kind of objectivity to our thought processes, in order to monitor and reduce negative, hurtful thinking. In general, the author suggests meditation and the practice of mindfulness as useful tools, to help us become observers in our own skulls.

There are many quotes from various sources of wisdom, from Mother Thersa, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama to Mavis Karn, whose remarkable letter to 'Kids (and former kids)' on 'The Secret' develops the notion that 'The only thing that can keep you from enjoying all that you already are is a thought ... Your thought.' Carlson expands on this to advise us to be empowered by learning how to 'step back and adjust the volume and tone of what's going on in your own mind.' His Seng-Ts'an quote, 'Our way is not difficult, save the picking and choosing', is one that especially resonates with me.

What I like about this book is that it not only is a source of wisdom on handling the trials of life, but it also suggests specific mental tools and techniques that can help, such as learning to 'soften around pain'. Other techniques include the suggestion, in dealing with conflict, to treat others as if they might die by midnight, and to avoid acting on ideas that arise out of a low mood. There is much that is familiar from previous Don't Sweat books, and indeed the author suggests that practicing patience with the small stuff is also good training for coping with the big stuff in life.

I had a sneaking feeling, while reading, that we could use more of this sort of wisdom in international as well as in individual human relations. But whether you're anxious about the state of the world and what big stuff might be ahead of us, or are already dealing with a personal crisis or tragedy, What About the Big Stuff? is an excellent source of comfort and coping tools.

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