email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God50 Voices of DisbeliefA Companion to Buddhist PhilosophyA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Frightening LoveA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA People's History of ChristianityAdieu to GodAn Ethics for TodayAristotle's ChildrenAugustine's "Confessions"Bad FaithBehind the GospelsBeyond the SelfBig DreamsBig GodsBody Piercing Saved My LifeBrains, Buddhas, and BelievingBrief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and FaithBuddhism and ScienceBuddhist Boot CampConfucianismConfucianismConfucius and ConfucianismContemplative ScienceCorporal Punishment, Religion, and United States Public SchoolsCourage to SurrenderCross and KhoraDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin, God and the Meaning of LifeDeath and the AfterlifeDebating DesignDeeper Than DarwinDivinity of DoubtEmbracing MindEncountering the DharmaEngaging BuddhismEsalenEscape Your Own PrisonEvidence for PsiEvilEvolution and ReligionExplorations in Neuroscience, Psychology and ReligionFaithFaith and Wisdom in ScienceFingerprints of GodFor The Bible Tells Me SoForgivenessFrom Shame to SinGodGod & TherapyGod Is Not GreatGod Is Not OneGod: The Failed HypothesisHereticHidden DimensionsHooked!Hours with the MysticsHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow Would Buddha Act?Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInto Great SilenceIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A DialogueJewish DharmaLife After FaithLiving DeeplyLiving with a Wild GodLiving with DarwinMaking Chastity SexyMedicine and Health Care in Early ChristianityMedicine and ReligionMedicine of the PersonMorals Not KnowledgeMysticism & SpaceNature and the Human SoulNothingOn AnimalsOn Life After DeathPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePathways to SpiritualityPeaceful Death, Joyful RebirthPhilosophers without GodsPhilosophical Myths of the FallPorn UniversityPray the Gay AwayPsychotherapy without the SelfPurgatoryRadical GraceReason, Faith, and RevolutionRecruiting Young LoveReligion without GodReligious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric DiagnosisSaving GodScience and NonbeliefScience and Religion at the CrossroadsScience and SpiritualityScience vs. ReligionSecular Philosophy and the Religious TemperamentSelf Hypnosis for Cosmic ConsciousnessSelf, No Self?Sex and the Soul, Updated EditionSmile of the BuddhaSong of RiddlesSpirit, Mind, and BrainSuperstitionTen Lectures on Psychotherapy and SpiritualityThe Accidental MindThe Belief InstinctThe Bodhisattva's BrainThe Cambridge Companion to AtheismThe Cambridge Companion to Science and ReligionThe Case for GodThe Chosen OneThe Dao of NeuroscienceThe Dark Night of the SoulThe Darkening AgeThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe Forgotten CreedThe Fundamentalist MindsetThe God DebatesThe God GeneThe Hero with a Thousand FacesThe Improbability of GodThe Joy of SecularismThe Language God TalksThe Language of GodThe Meaning of BeliefThe MiracleThe New AtheismThe New Religious IntoleranceThe Philosophy of ReligionThe Power of FaithThe Power of ForgivenessThe Power of Religion in the Public SphereThe Psychology of Religious FundamentalismThe Psychology of SpiritualityThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Secular OutlookThe Sense of SelfThe Spirit of the BuddhaThe Spirit of Tibetan BuddhismThe Tibetan Book of the DeadThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular FaithsThe Watkins Dictionary of SymbolsTheology, Psychology and the Plural SelfThoughts Without A ThinkerTop SecretUnifying HinduismWays of KnowingWhat Is Buddhist Enlightenment?What Should I Believe?When the Impossible HappensWhy I Left, Why I StayedWilliam James on Ethics and FaithWriting as a Sacred PathYoga, Karma, and RebirthZealot

Related Topics
Courage to SurrenderReview - Courage to Surrender
8 Contradictions on the Spiritual Path
by Tommy Hellsten
Celestial Arts, 2008
Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip)
Aug 12th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 33)

Tommy Hellsten opens his Courage to Surrender: 8 Contradictions on the Spiritual Path with his personal story. "Having acted as a family therapist of sorts from [his] early teens," he sets out upon a journey to steer his client-readers in the direction of spiritual growth and mental health. His guidebook along this path is framed as a series of eight paradoxes, each of which he unlocks in turn to reveal the paradoxical nature of life and the human condition. The core message of Hellsten's book is that people's illusions of personal power and self-sufficiency must be surrendered to achieve a healthy human life. A critique of the modern, fast-paced, success-oriented, consumption-driven, self-seeking life in modern industrialized, materialistic society, this book counsels that we admit our incompleteness, befriend our weaknesses, humble ourselves to our human frailty, and recognize our necessary reliance upon others (and ultimately the Judeo-Christian god) for fulfillment and happiness.

The first paradox--"the journey begins when you stop"--launches the reader into a monologue on the wisdom of unknowing. Jesus is cited as the exemplar of paradox and humility. The failure to elect the obvious candidate, Socrates, as the exemplary proponent (and originator) of the notion of human wisdom as humility (Socrates is the wisest man in Athens because he knows that he does not know) can be explained by Hellsten's anti-reason stance: intellect is posed as an obstacle to healthy living. Where Socrates counsels the wisdom of unknowing as an invitation to rational inquiry, Hellsten insists that one must have "the courage to surrender" reason and to take "a leap of faith" (p. 13).

With the second paradox--"true strength can only be found in weakness"--Hellsten takes a firm stand against the modern construal of weakness as despicable and shameful. He encourages us to face our common human frailty and come to embrace it as an opportunity to link with others on a common plane. All human beings are frail corporeal creatures; clinging to others is how we come to know love, overcome fear, and find our authentic selves.

With the third paradox--"if you seek safety, live dangerously--Hellsten argues that the bad things that befall people are blessings in disguise, and serve an important function in human lives: "only by enduring the pain of misfortune can we truly savor the triumphant joys of life" (p. 32). The pain and suffering that most people would deem "evil," Hellsten redeems and celebrates as the necessary backdrop to a happy life. He counsels against "unhealthy self-sufficiency," and suggests "wrecking our elaborate security constructions" or "safety structures" (pp. 43, 44), including our "clinging to others" (p. 36). 

Paradox four--"what you give up will be given to you"--is a critique of moral individualism and a eulogy of moral absolutes. When "our morals become elastic, nothing is absolute," Hellsten laments (p. 72). He gestures toward faith and "a deep dependency on others" as the right path to authentic selfhood (p. 82).

Paradoxes five through seven--"the less you do, the more you get done"--counsels that we replace the idea of being as "the place where doing happens" with the place where we find rest (p. 92).  The sixth and seventh paradoxes--"only alone can we be together" and "only together can we be alone"--speak of respect for self and others, especially crucial in modern capitalist societies that tend to isolate and alienate individuals, pitting them in competition against each other, rather than encouraging mutually-supportive communities.

Finally, paradox eight--"if you seek eternity, live in the here and now"--critiques the tendency in modern societies to deem consumption as "a holy act" and hold material goods as the "sacred" dimension of life. Here, Hellsten closes with a deeply religious call to bring one's troubles to "the Christian faith [which] holds answers to all these questions" (p. 140).

There exists little doubt that Hellsten's spiritual primer offers some valuable insights into mental and spiritual health. He highlights unresolved childhood issues as the primary source of a sickened psyche and an unhappy, alienated life. He offers a shrewd analysis of alcoholism as a coping mechanism for life failures, and wise counsel for how addictions may be overcome--by staying focused upon one's weakness, so as to avoid the false confidence that leads to risky behaviors. His critique of the tendency of the forces of consumerism and industrialization to dehumanize and alienate people will ring true for most readers.

On the other hand, there are serious problems with Hellsten's book and the spiritual path to which he beckons us. Paradox is the stuff of human life, and reason alone cannot mend the fractures of modern society, but easy platitudes, self-contradictory counsel, and faulty logic cannot set us on the path to redemption. Human existence is absurd enough without being advised to overcome both our tendency to "live only for the moment, as if each one were our last" (p. 14) and our tendency to "step out of the present moment . . . the only moment in which life is present" (p. 38). Hellsten assures us that stubborn trust in our own convictions is one of the greatest roadblocks to human connection and individual happiness (p. 48). Yet, a page later, he hails as "heroes" men who "stubbornly [stand] by their own convictions" (p. 49). Then again, he flips his counsel: we must give up our need to control truth; "we no longer need to see things only from our own viewpoint" (p. 127).

We should abandon our individual convictions and gain the wisdom of unknowing, so that our humility will open us to faith and Christian "absolutes": Hellsten laments, "our morals have become elastic; nothing is absolute" (p. 72). But "moral absolutes" (from the Latin more designating social customs and prohibitions) are precisely what shift from society to society, begging the question why Christian mores are the ones to be granted "absolute" status.

Add to the book's logical--and moral--problems its troubling use of gendered language (he, man), its redemption of pain and suffering as valuable aspects of life (logically rendering perpetrators our benefactors), and its universalizing discourse, which suggests a common "human nature"  that sickens and finds health in identical ways. Hellsten may have written seventeen books and practiced therapy all his life, as his introduction indicates, but serious scholars, and indeed any educated audience, will need to muster the "courage to surrender" their expectations that this book, little more than an oversimplistic, logically faulty, all-too-Christian string of platitudes, is a serious attempt at therapy.


© 2008 Wendy C. Hamblet


Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip), North Carolina A&T State University


Welcome to Metapsychology.

Note that Metapsychology will be moving to a new server in January 2020. We will not put up new reviews during the transition. We thank you for your support and look forward to coming back with a revised format.

We feature over 8300 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our Google Group!

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716