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A book full of insight and compassion.,
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This review is from: Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships (Paperback)
In her book "Re-writing the Rules" Meg Barker provides a refreshing, highly thoughtful and compassionate work that she describes as an "anti-self-help book". For Barker the starting point in developing more healthy relationships comes not via seconding guessing the manoeuvres of the desired "other", rather it comes via a relationship with self in all its complexity. Self is presented as both an on-going process of change and also as a plurality of differing aspects that dialogue with each other. Barker's insights are offered in spirit of openness and wondering-an attempt to explore the right questions rather than providing pat answers.
Part of the helpfulness of this work lies in the way in which the author focuses in on the nature of human relationships and current dominance of discourses around romantic intimacy. Barker skilfully weaves in both contemporary cultural references and philosophical acumen in critiquing the centrality of both heterosexuality and genitally focused intimacy. We are invited to move from a position of certainty and polarity, to one in which we seek to cultivate sensitivity to nuances and subtlety. Sexual minorities are not exempted from the danger of losing touch with our desires; the demands of identity politics often asking for a degree of labelling and certainty that some may feel less than comfortable about.
The structure of each chapter begins with a thoughtful reflection on the issues under consideration e.g. the rules of attraction, the rules of gender and then moves on to an exploration of the current set of beliefs that many of us find ourselves operating under e.g. "Relationships should be sexually and emotionally monogamous." Barker then gently begins a process of questioning and deconstruction that ask us to re-evaluate. Meg's own background in mindfulness practice and existential psychotherapy seem very evident during this process given the acute sense of awareness she displays and the degree of compassion towards self and others that runs throughout.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the depth of its meditation on the nature of friendship. The chapters on the nature of love and commitment rightly question the qualitative distinction that we make between how we relate to "Friends" and "Lovers". How might our relationships improve if we let go of the assumptions we make and unrealistic expectations that we often demand of those we have sex with?
Given the centrality of existential psychology within the book, themes regarding endings, loss and transition are thoughtfully and thoroughly addressed. Barker is highly aware that in times of pain we may naturally seek to retreat and defend ourselves, with this in mind she provides many helpful exercises and strategies with a view to developing greater presence, flexibility and compassion. As with the other discussions in the book, the aim of such work is not to prescribe a new "hipper", queerer orthodoxy, rather it seeks to explore how we might experience a greater sense of freedom, both for ourselves and those to whom we are connected.
I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in a philosophically and spiritually engaging examination in how we challenge and re-write the stories that we have inherited about how we "do" intimacy. Meg Barker has managed to produce a book that is at once contemporary, engaging and entertaining, while at the same time providing depth and vivid insight.
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