REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
The trouble with so many Mind-Body-Spirit books these days is that they tell their readers to focus on themselves when their main problem usually is that they are already far too self-centred. ‘Love yourself’, ‘please yourself’, do what you want to do’ often appear as New Age mantras, spiritual echoes of the Thatcherite mentality that reduce the spiritual quest to a series of consumer ‘choices’.
This climate makes Stephanie Sorrell’s new book especially refreshing. Stephanie has struggled valiantly with depression over many years and succeeded in transforming this experience into a creative gift. She has been through an acute crisis of the self or dark night of the soul. However she has emerged not by being miraculously ‘cured’, but by integrating the depression into her life, learning to work around it at times and also to listen to it and surrender when appropriate.
For such surrenders, she discovered, can be a source of inner strength. They can teach us much about ourselves – our real selves, that is, not the ‘I want’ self that consumes and demands. More important than that, surrendering to and accepting the ‘shadow’ side of our lives can teach us much about our relationships with others and help us determine our true priorities.
One of the most powerful insights gained by Stephanie from her experience is that the self is meaningless – as well as quite literally helpless – when it is detached from the rest of the natural cycle. She has not only understood intellectually the idea that all life is interconnected, but felt and intuited it. The underlying message of her book is that to understand the self we need to see it as part of something larger. It is not a discrete unit but is on a continuum that includes all living systems and links together past, present and future generations.
As well as being ourselves, we are each other. That is the crucial lesson that we have to learn if we are to heal ourselves, individually and collectively. From this understanding, it follows that humans cannot live successfully unless they learn to co-operate with each other rather than compete for an illusory dominance. There is ‘such a thing’ as society and it extends to the rest of nature, of which humanity is but a small part. The notion that we can ‘conquer’ the natural world or place ourselves outside it is a dangerous and destructive fantasy.
Therefore, the way that Stephanie has learned to respond to depression contains lessons for us in living and working within nature’s rhythms, surrendering to their darkness as well as basking in their light. By using nature as a ‘mirror’ to reflect our inner thoughts and feelings, we can reintegrate ourselves into the natural cycle.
Stephanie emphasises the therapeutic power of observing and experiencing the seasons, valuing each one of them for its own qualities and valuing the effects they have on us. Those who find winter depressing, for example, can learn to think of it as a ‘Long Wait’, an opportunity to rethink and look ahead creatively. Those who (like this reviewer) find high summer an oppressive time of year can learn to think of it as a period ‘Ripening’. This permits us to slough off the forces that weigh us down by blocking our creativity and harming our relationships with others.
The strength of Nature as Mirror is that it is about far more than self-help. The therapeutic process is important for the individual, of course, but has no ultimate meaning unless it is part of a larger process. That process involves a radical change in our attitude to the environment and the way we live within it.
Stephanie’s book is timely, wise and compassionate.
~ Aidan Rankin for New Vision magazine, june/july issue
Nature is a mirror, reflecting back at us the fractures and chasms within our own psyche. Because of this, nature can also be used as a powerful healing tool, and this book explains how to use nature's own natural cycles and patterns to heal our own souls. Also, and importantly, until we develop an intimate sense of our union with nature, we will continue to work against the natural environment, with all that this implies in environmental destruction. If we do not heal our relationship with nature it will destroy us.
This book was born out of an applied project completed by the author at the Psychosynthesis Institute in London where she trained as an applied practitioner. She has an MA in psychosynthesis psychology.
Many of us can find ourselves moved by the immensity of a mature tree, in its natural environment, even sensing its spirit, and with the trees clearly cyclical pattern of life, it is fitting that Sorrell uses this powerful imagery to explain our own journey of healing at a psycho-spiritual level.
But first we need to find our own inner place of healing, our own inner light. Everything needed for sustaining our existence is within us, but we gather stuff around us to which we become attached. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around. We need to find again our heart centre, our own rooted-ness.
Then the tree becomes a model, a template, a living map for our own soul journeys. In separate chapters Sorrell links the various processes in the natural cycle of the tree, of rebirth, blossoming, ripening, the stripping of autumn or fall, and so into the "long wait" of the dark of winter, with stages in our own journey of spiritual development and healing. Four chapters are devoted to the wilderness within the "long wait". Here is the greatest opportunity for soul work, Sorrell tells us, often with the need for spiritual guidance, and this is where the outside material world can be most negative, least supportive. Within this wilderness experience she describes the three vital strands of reflection, contemplation and aspiration. We need to give much more time in our lives, in our daily routines, to reflection. It integrates past with present, and helps the synthesis of heart, mind, spirit and soul. Then she describes how to contemplate an object (for example she uses an apple), holding it, letting our senses interact with it, being receptive to what it has to offer, allowing a stream of consciousness that can heal, enrich and enlighten. The final strand within the wilderness is aspiration. We all need visions and goals; we all need to aspire to the highest we can reach. Our unlived life has a powerful hold on us and feeling unfulfilled feeds our anxiety of death. Gaining wisdom through this threefold process in the wilderness, we learn the art of just "being", we come to know where we are in our own inner creative process, but we can also use this wisdom in the world to help others. And so we go back to our rebirth as the cycle starts again.
With honesty and courage Sorrell uses her own struggles of soul and spirit and mind, her own unconscious painful feelings as they are mirrored back at her from nature, to lend support to her ideas throughout the book. This makes this book a very personal account of Sorrell's own psycho-spiritual healing journey but it most certainly is not "misery memoir".
Her observations of nature are perceptive and sensitive, and she tells us how nature has helped her make sense of her own often painful journey, giving her an empathy with any reader who has experienced some of these things. Although she draws mostly on the powerful metaphor of the tree, the apple and the acorn also play their part. I for one through my own life struggles found that I could readily relate to quite a bit of what she writes.
This is a practical book, as each stage in the cyclical healing process is supported with simple exercises of reflection, meditation and visualization, which she has written herself. Some of these need daily practise; those to help us just "be" need practising several times a day. In addition Sorrell encourages the use of writing, drawing and colouring after these exercises to ground the insights obtained. I imagine this will therefore be a useful tool for psychotherapists, particularly those with an interest in ecopsychology, to share and work through with their patients.
I liked the rich metaphorical treatment placing the different stages of our mental pain within the context of the natural cycle of the life of the tree. I liked the poetic descriptions of nature, clearly felt deeply by the author, and she also uses work from the Romantic poets and others, to good effect. Most of all I loved the Tree Blessing, a sample of her own sensitive poetry. It was to me quite beautiful.
So it is a pity that the publisher's copy-editing has let this book down a little. But this must not be allowed to detract from this lovely book and the perception and value of the message imparted. Errors can be easily corrected in the next print run.
The material world has pretty much exiled nature as our greatest teacher, but reconnection with nature brings us back in touch with transcendence, spirituality, The Other, or God. This book provides the cyclical template to help us find our own healed and healing place within the biosphere.
The Science and Medical Network ~
If, like me, you find that a walk in the countryside or on the seashore can lift your mood when you are down; if a sunny day makes your spirit soar while a stormy night inspires your darkest imaginings, then a new book by psychologist Stephanie Sorrel lcould not only explain why that happens - but also help you make the most of nature as a spiritual guide.
~ Lucya, Badwitch
Stephanie Sorrell is one of those few gifted authors who can write about complex issues, making them clear and accessible without losing the essence of what she is dealing with. The images and symbols used by the author provide insight into the evolution, growth and change in our lives. Recommended reading! ~ N.ORTEZ-CUE, Review for Cumbria's Green Handbook (Harvest issue 2011)
I was delighted to be asked to write the Foreword to this book as there are so many aspects to its philosophy that I found intensely inspiring and moving. The concepts that nature does not judge and that, there is nothing wasted in human experience, are ultimately positive and inspirational. This book is also profoundly helpful regarding the eternal problem of mankind's fear of death. Stephanie tells us that death is, in nature, only a steady process of unfolding, shedding and rooting. Nothing and nobody really leaves us because we have integrated their essence within us. Through this trust in nature we are moving towards a philosophy of life that is deeply spiritual. As my teacher, White Eagle, tells us: Do not fear the unknown, not even death itself. For with every forward step you take you are entering a fuller existence. Nature as Mirror helps us to the realisation that through nature, all aspects of spiritual life can be explored. ~ Jenny Dent, Mother of The White Eagle Lodge, worldwide
Nature as Mirror is a remarkable book which connects the threads which exist amongst all created life. Deep truths are interwoven amongst beautifully illustrated descriptions of the natural world. Perhaps through this book we may actually begin to see who we truly may become. ~ Jane Sorbi, Mother of the White Eagle Lodge in the Americas
We are finally starting to understandâ€”or perhaps to rememberâ€”that we are inseparable from the Earth and that whatever we do to Her we do to ourselves. But it is not enough to know this intellectually. We have to feel that truth in our bones and in our cells. We must learn to live it with every breath. This wise and lovely book can help us do precisely that.
By teaching us to see ourselves and all the patterns of our lives reflected in the natural world around us, Stephanie Sorrell has created a powerful and useful tool for self awareness, spiritual growth and the self-healing of person and planet. ~ Marian Van Eyk McCain, author of Elderwoman and The Lilypad List, Co-Editor of GreenSpirit Journal and Editor of GreenSpirit: Path to a new consciousness.
An inspiring book full of wisdom and activities to guide us through our lives and help us to reach more of our potential. Stephanie uses her own experiences to demonstrate that nature is the teacher and like nature we can whatever happens to us regenerate our lives. It is in nature that we can connect with the transpersonal and our spirituality. As a psychotherapist I will find this book invaluable as a tool to use with my clients. ~ Rosemary Anne Ward, Psychotherapist, MA