“40 Days and 40 Nights,” by Ilene Segalove


  Late in July my husband and I took a trip, and about 200 miles from home I discovered I’d left my drivers license at home.  Turning around and going back for it would have eaten up too much of our trip time, and I had my photo ID from work, so we continued on.  However, it meant he would have to do all the driving.

I imagine I’m not the only person who feels this way, but this episode reminded me how important the ability to drive is to my sense of self.  I’ve had my own car since I was 17, and at some point I realized how grounding that is to my feeling of self-determination.  If I lived in an area that was more bicycle friendly or had better mass transit, having a vehicle might not be quite so essential. 

Being unable to drive on this trip was the shake-up I needed to acknowlege other changes in my life.  At the time, I just knew I felt uneasy and couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong.   As it happened, we were at Barnes and Noble a couple hours after I’d discovered I’d forgotten my license.  I was looking at the blank journals and found 40 Days and 40 Nights: Taking Time Out For Self-Discovery, by Ilene Segalove.  I enjoy journaling, and the book looked interesting, so I bought it.  Now I’m pretty sure it was my Higher Self or intuition nudging me in the right direction.  I began reading it during the trip, but didn’t do anything with it until after we returned home.

Segalove presents a scenario where she has arrived at a point where she thinks she wants to make a change in her life.  She goes to a therapist who advises her to take time out from her life to better understand herself and what she wants.  So she commits herself to 40 days and 40 nights of taking time out, even though she can only be solitary for a week.  And it works.  She doesn’t obsess about the change she is considering, but instead makes time to think about what is important in her life and to make room for the possibility of change.  At the end of the 40 days, she knows what she wants to do.

Segalove recognizes the huge percentage of us cannot take 40 days and 40 nights out of our lives to contemplate.  Her book guides you to set an intention (what you hope to accomplish), and then offers ideas and questions to help you get in touch with who you are and what you want out of life.  The exercises are simple (one of them is to just sit in a dark room at night, with your eyes open).  Since this is a guided journal, she asks questions, and then gives you blank pages in which to answer.  (I prefered to use my own journal.)   The journal prompts range from simple (“What would you do if you had more free time?”) to more difficult (“Who has called you the most critical and dismissive names, and what were they?”).  Reading the daily exercises and doing the journaling can take as little as 10 minutes to as much as an hour, depending on what you want to say and how much time you have.  I suspect the more you invest in the process, the more you will get out of it.

The job I began back in early May has brought me into contact with a wide range of people with a wider range of values than I’ve dealt with before.  It’s caused me to question my own values — what do I believe, and why do I believe the way I do?   So I wrote, “I intend to rediscover who I am, and to organize my life to be more supportive of who I am.”  Segalove points out that intentions can be practical (“Clean up the garage”), spiritual, and/or vague. 

Every day I’ve journaled, and spent a bit of time on self-exploration.  Today my exercise is to avoid looking at the clock, though it could be breaking any other habit.  Segalove also includes prompts to have you consider whether the work you’re doing with the book has had an impact on your intention, such as changing it.  So far my intention has been strengthened.

A person could argue that they could do all this on their own without buying a book.  That is true.  However, as a counselor I am aware of the importance of a safe “container” in which to do this sort of work.  When you talk with a therapist about difficult things, the room and the relationship between the two of you provides a safe place in which to talk about things that hurt or are scary.  You know you will not be judged, so you can look at things honestly, and the potential for learning and change is great.  Segalove’s book provides a sort of safe container to explore ideas and grow as a person.  I consider it a good investment.

What would you like to change/accomplish in your life?


About judithornot

Lives in semi-rural Northern California, happily married, retired counselor, night person, knits, plays WoW.
This entry was posted in books, Mental Health and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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