Both books case-bound, 215 and 263 pps. respectively. New York: Gildan Media, 2020–21, $30 each.
Don’t get too flummoxed by the word “miracle” in the latest books by TS member Mitch Horowitz. On the first page of The Miracle Habits, he defines it as “a fortuitous event or circumstance that exceeds all conventional expectation.” We’ve all had those moments, but perhaps didn’t pay too much attention to them. Horowitz’s aim, I believe, is to help us learn to be more aware of these moments and use them as guides in life.
These books can serve as companions to each other, offering mutually supportive ideas. Neither book requires any particular insight into religion or spiritual tradition, and both contain a big helping of American philosophy from two of my favorites: Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James.
If Alcoholics Anonymous offers a Twelve-Step program for self-development, Horowitz takes it one step further, with thirteen steps in The Miracle Habits, designed to help you gain “personal power,” “cultivate providence,” and realize “epic performance.”
The Miracle Month offers thirty days of exercises to begin each; a program to alter the way you think and help you recognize and remove the barriers to self-development and personal power. He begins with an exercise that seemed rather odd to me: ridding yourself of an overabundance of clothing. (I was suddenly glad I’d just taken a large bag of clothes to Goodwill—I was a step ahead of the game!) Instead, consciously pick the attire that creates the image you want to project. Perhaps clothes do make the man (or woman), as we’ve heard said.
This exercise corresponds to the second habit in The Miracle Habits: create your total environment, including how you dress and look; create your image; “own who you are,” as Horowitz states. Find your path—not the path of some teacher, preacher or guru, but what “expresses the self.”
Each of the thirty daily exercises in The Miracle Month is designed to help us become more aware and face the daily challenges that we have all encountered. One of the biggies is anger: either being angry or dealing with an angry person. Writing from his own experience as an angry person, Horowitz encourages us to “face your anger.” He notes that (and as I’ve learned through studying Buddhism) most anger is rooted in fear: “Fear is probably the trigger for most angry or destructive emotions.” We need to consider that fact both in ourselves and in angry people we may encounter.
Horowitz asks important questions such as the one we’re asked to contemplate on day 8: “What do you want?” Do we know what we really want? Sometimes we think we do, but he urges us to clarify our aim by writing down “that one overarching non-negotiable thing, that one core aim that you desire like breath itself. Search yourself. It is there.”
That is similar to the first habit: unwavering focus. “Choose a Definite Chief Aim (DCA) for which you feel passion,” writes Horowitz. “To bring something into actuality, you must know and be focused on precisely what you want. And you must pursue the wished-for condition with absolute focus and single-minded purpose.”
Often in our search for happiness, we find that we are trapped in suffering, that we are even addicted to suffering. Horowitz asks on day 26’s exercise, “Do you enjoy suffering?” He is straightforward about this issue: “The greatest barrier to your happiness is often the secret pleasure that you derive from suffering.” Often people like their suffering so much that they have a difficult time walking away from it.
Horowitz’s exercise for day 13 is “give up one thing that causes you pain.” (He gave up Facebook, which sounds like a pretty good idea!) And it prepares us for contemplating whether we actually enjoy suffering, and if we do, why.
Sometimes the people around us—coworkers, relatives, a spouse—cause us pain. In both books, Horowitz emphatically tells us to “escape cruelty” (day 16) and “get away from cruel people” (habit 6). People who suck the life out of you with barbs of passive-aggressive or hostile behavior aren’t worth being around. “Often it is vital, first and foremost, to physically separate from cruel or depleting people,” said Horowitz. “You do not have to be around cruel people” (italics his).
Horowitz refers to some good philosophical reading. He calls upon Emerson frequently, especially his essay on karma, “Compensation,” which Horowitz says is his “personal creed,” and “Self-Reliance,” an essay that “deeply influenced” Horowitz in “matters of self-verification.” I would recommend reading these two essays to understand how Emerson’s philosophy, along with that of William James, influenced Horowitz’s life.
New Thought writers have also shaped Horowitz’s philosophy, including Neville Goddard and Napoleon Hill, from whom Horowitz quotes often. Sun Tzu’s Art of War provides insight into conflict (something we all face) and winning. “Select a conflict,” advises Horowitz. “Surrender, back down, walk away—it has its advantages and also rids you of needing to be right or winning . . . lost battles are sometimes quietly won battles.”
In the seventh habit, “Choose your comrades,” Horowitz tells us that our choice of companions is the “most critical decision in life.” He advises, “Never settle for low company.”
Ultimately, guidebooks on self-development provide insight into how someone else’s experience helped shape their life. They inspire us to develop a practice (which I believe is what Horowitz is encouraging us to do) that gives us a new perspective on our own miracle moments. Life can be as easy or as difficult as we make it: it’s up to us. The world “out there” is merely a reflection of our world “in here.” If we change the world in here, the world out there may look a lot different, and might become more peaceful and easier to navigate.
Clare Goldsberry’s latest book, The Illusion of Life and Death, will be published in 2021 by Monkfish.