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The Enchanted Life

Recently I read and reviewed Sharon Blackie's book, The Enchanted Life (2018) for PCSR (Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Change).

Sharon Blackie has emerged in recent years as a clear and powerful voice in discussion around belonging, myth and authenticity. Blackie stands as a guide through the sea of questions around the ‘authentic life’. For Blackie, and I agree, authenticity relates to the ways that our lives and our choices are rooted within our connection to the Earth, our people or place of belonging and are reflected in service to our values. Importantly, she presents and maintains both the personal and the collective impacts of living in a way which is connected or ‘enchanted’. This is the moment in which what might be ‘good’ for me; creating depth and richness in life and relationship overlaps with what is ‘good’ and necessary for the collective and for the planetary eco-system of which we are a part.

This particular book presents, within a rich and personal storytelling, some of what it might mean to lead an ‘enchanted life’. Blackie says “I believe that enchantment is an attitude of mind which can be cultivated, a way of approaching the world which anyone can learn to adopt: the enchanted life is possible for everybody”. She describes enchantment as an active choice, a gesture towards life with an awakened sense of our connection to ourselves and the world. Drawing on philosophy, neuroscience, Jungian psychology and anthropology, Blackie is able to track the tangled path of how we have found ourselves in what she calls ‘disenchantment’. Throughout the book, Blackie presents an impressively broad view of each aspect discussed. Using questions and discussion, she supports the reader to view, with more and more clarity, the path towards an enchanted existence. Throughout the book there is powerful reference to the reasons why, at this time, an enchanted life is essential. For Blackie, the cultivation of an enchanted life is part of the path towards an ecologically sound, sustainable future.

This book is reminiscent of Thomas Moore’s ‘The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life’ (1996). Similarly, Moore worked to explore the potential of enchantment in a jaded and struggling

Western world. Using the term enchantment, Moore shares Blackie’s vision of a more enchanted way of being in the world and its direct link to our potential as humans to create and maintain a more sustainable society. Both authors point out that rather than being a childish, magical fantasy, enchantment is actually the embodied, connected and committed existence of the mature adult. Enchantment has inspired and existed within philosophy, art and culture throughout time and has more recently been demeaned and diminished in Western society in favor of the scientific, the industrial and the cognitive.

Weaving between creative imagination, education, psychology, folk-lore and history, Blackie manages to offer a broad yet full expression of modern Western culture and how we might return to a place of enchantment. Part of how this is done is through the presentation of a wide range of individuals whose work and life have come to embody enchantment. From storytellers to anthropologists to educators and artists, the book offers a clear sense of what an engaged, connected and enchanted existence would look like today. For me, the description of Tom Hirons, a travelling storyteller, connecting myth and place and enchantment struck a chord. Blackie here presents an example of the individuals working on the margin and renewing the value and availability of enchantment through storytelling.

Each chapter ends with a number of questions or suggestions, leading the reader through a personal examination of enchantment and authenticity. Exploring the myths from within our own lives, understanding our own belonging and connection, developing connection practices to the land and others are some of the ways in which the reader is lead through such personal reflection. Alongside questions are practical and creative suggestions, practices that might be adopted in the effort to ‘let more light in’, to clarify our own individual paths towards enchantment. Although the application of these ideas within a clinical context might seem vague, I noticed that the questions and reflections throughout the book shifted, significantly, my own sense of enchantment and connection. For example, Blackie encourages readers to connect to the ‘myths of our lives’ by identifying those stories which, since childhood, have captured and stuck with us. By connecting with myth and fairytale, I felt supported by Blackie to witness my own experiences in a new and powerful way.

This book constantly references Blackie’s own personal experience and process of (re)-enchantment. She describes a previous life entrenched in modern corporate responsibility and expectation followed by the cultivation of a land-based life, embracing her ability to step into her own enchanted existence. Through her own story, Blackie clarifies that enchantment is not about magical thinking. Rather, enchantment is about awareness and engagement with the present moment, about the capacity to experience our world and environment as it is. My sense is that Blackie, and Moore, speak of an essential aspect of psychotherapy, counselling and self-development in the context of the world as it is now. Described in this book is the initial steps and pursuit of a life enchanted; an experience defined by connection, depth and belonging rather than the disembodied consumption so popular in mainstream society. By connecting the often-isolated practices of psychotherapy and self-examination with the curative process of re-engaging with the natural world, with our belonging and ‘place’ as well as our capacity to be present, Blackie guides the path towards a more sustainable, more connected way of being, living and relating today.



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