A native of Finland, Hellsten’s book are very popular there, starting with his first book, Hippo in the Living Room which introduced the concept of codependency. His perspective is a blend of psychoanalysis, Christianity, the principles of the 12-step program, and his life experiences.
Courage to Surrender is a synthesis of Hellsten's previous books and offers some valuable insights into mental and spiritual health: he emphasizes unresolved childhood issues as a primary source of an unhealthy psyche and an unhappy, alienated (adult) life; alcoholism is a coping mechanism for a failed life; consumerism and industrialization have dehumanized and alienated people. Overall, I appreciated the Zen-like way Hellsten uses paradox to illustrate how we must create great change within ourselves to become better people.
I agree that we need to wander for a bit before we can truly ‘get right with god,’ and that we can find true safety by revealing ourselves at our most vulnerable so that we can see the strength around us and allow it to support us. Fundamentally I agree that control is an illusion we need to relinquish and the less we do the more we accomplish.
Nevertheless there are some problems with Hellsten’s perspective. Paradox is the stuff of life, what makes us brilliant in our genius and depraved in our despair, even within the same lifetime. But paradox when delivered in the form of over-simplistic and contradictory venues is just confusing. For example, the reader is assured that our stubborn trust in our own convictions is one of the greatest roadblocks to human connection and individual happiness (p. 48), yet, a page later, "heroes" are described as men who "stubbornly [stand] by their own convictions" (p. 49), and still later we are counseled to give up our need to control truth; "we no longer need to see things only from our own viewpoint" (p. 127). Frankly, I just wasn’t given enough of a foundation to decide which viewpoint was the most important one, and which one was the one I needed to focus on to become a more spiritual being.
A minor but consistent irritation was the lack of a female pronoun (am I not in the audience?). I really disliked his perspective that pain and suffering are valuable lessons, and those who cause us pain are a kind of benefactor; that feels demeaning of those who are abused.
In the end, this can be a useful read, a deepening of thinking and feeling about how to find our way to trust in a beneficent god and become better people. But it should not be the only guide along that path.
Three yin-yangs out of five.
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: Tommy Hellsten
Celestial Arts, 2008pp. 150, $12.95