My goal this year is to be happy.
After years of feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied, I’m trying to find a way to simply be happy. With that in mind, I’ve decided to start reading various inspirational, spiritual and self-help books all around the theme of improving mental health and wellbeing. First up, Light is the New Black.
Before we dive in, a warning; Light is the New Black is a book that’s high on spirituality. If you’re the type to scoff at meditation as hippie nonsense, then you’ll certainly not get on with this book. The more spiritually minded you are, the more you’ll click with author Rebecca Campbell’s worldview and advice.
As someone who does believe in the power of meditation, but considers themselves very sceptical of deeper ideas such as spiritual energy or even any sort of higher power, I approached this book cautiously. I’m glad that I did give it a chance, because I found a useful well of advice and positive exercises inside, even if not everything sat right with me.
Although it positions itself as a book for women and men, Light is the New Black is very much a book aimed at women. The masculine is villianised and the feminine heralded as the healthy, healing and fulfilling alternative. Of course it’s therefore relevant to mention that I am a trans woman, my life has been about a repression and then celebration of feminine characteristics and pursuits. Therefore this framing of the feminine as a peaceful and liberating alternative is something I’m already living, it’s an easy idea for me to digest. But anyone working to accept the masculine side of their personality, or for those who reject masculine and feminine as ideals to begin with, will struggle from the get-go.
The book has an easy to read format, using mini-chapters that loosely flow from one to the next. Sometimes they’re personal stories, often they’re advice, and occasionally they’re even mantras and poems. It’s not a book that’s tightly structured, but it never strives to be one that is either. It’s a dreamy and easy read, not a strict how-to guide. However, many chapters do end with exercises to try, usually something small to think on or write about. Altogether it means Light is the New Black is a book that puts a lot of control in your hands, personally I read it cover to cover and cherry picked which exercises to try and which I wanted to ignore, wherein it flowed quite well. If you wanted to read it at random, flipping to a new page for a short burst of advice every day, that could absolutely work too. But the uneven length and inconsistent utility of each chapter means you’ll probably have the most balanced experience just going in order.
Some of the concepts within I had a difficult time grasping, while others I even rejected outright. For instance, Campbell argues that we choose our own parents, good or bad. Her idea being that what they put us through helps us become who we are. This ties into a theme of the book, that trauma happens for a reason, that reason being that it guides us to become a better person via experience and tragedy. Once recovered, we’re then positioned to do great, fulfilling and enlightening things. I do think there’s something to the idea that personal growth can come from bad experiences, it’s something I’ve thought about before in relation to myself, but I can’t reconcile Campbell’s idea with the reality of what I know some people go through.
The claim that the horrific and horrible things that those I love have had inflicted upon them, is somehow a divine favour or even a choice, is staggeringly insensitive. Upon reading this segment, I cynically pondered how it’s easy to say trauma happens for a reason when you’re still able-bodied, financially stable and mentally healthy, but it’s certainly unfair to claim it’s a gift, when some people struggle with the effects for the rest of their lives. It’s not a point that is present for the entire book, but it does emerge intermittently. Unfortunately it soured my feeling on the book whenever it was brought back up, as that idea comes across as awkwardly privileged.
After reaching that aforementioned segment, I knew that just because I disagreed with it, it didn’t mean the rest of the book would be worthless to me, so I did press on.
That incidental nastiness aside, there is a lot to the book that I think is helpful too, even if you don’t strictly believe in the more out there and wild spiritual ideals that act as its foundation. One thing that did resonate with me is the idea that we can spend a lot of our lives waiting for permission to follow our calling, when deep down we know what it is. This gelled with me in respects to my transition, and various other things, when I have indeed done exactly that.
I’ve spoken before about knowing I was trans well before I transitioned, with validation issues and a need for permission working as huge barricades against me. I agree that it’s very easy to slip into repetitive thinking and ignore that crying urge that you’re supposed to be doing something else. The suggestion that this outlook rules many other aspects of our lives is a sensible and understandable one.
The central theme of the book revolves around light, which it defines early on. Light is described as a positive and feminine type of energy, which you channel (regardless of gender) whenever you’re being yourself, being kind or just generally doing something wholesome and happy. Light is recognised as something that makes you feel better, but doesn’t necessarily make everybody around you feel better. Campbell takes time to talk about toxic people who may have made you actively want to stop channeling your light, such as disruptive friends or maybe unsupportive parents, anyone who made you feel like you were being foolish for being yourself. Although a lot more to the concept is explained, that core idea is a useful one and illustrates a common struggle in a elegantly imaginative way.
It’s easy to understand what Campbell means by light, even if you don’t follow her rationalisation and belief in its source. I certainly have moments in my life I can point to as times I felt I was fulfilling a deeper need of my own, but stopped because of humiliation or fear. It’s an enticing and rewarding perspective to believe that light describes that feeling, that it’s ultimately a warm and authentic pursuit to follow what you know in your heart is right for you.
Whether you believe in the heavy spiritual side of it or not, I think Light is the New Black is a useful book. The thinking exercises it includes and bite-sized chapters means it’s an easy read, if something sounds too trippy and strange, then simply skip ahead a couple of pages and you’re onto a new passage about something else. Even if you don’t believe in the concept of light, the encouragement to break down what you want from life into simple concepts, to better understand where both conflict and fulfilment are originating from for you, is helpful.
Personally I found myself somewhere in the middle throughout Light is the New Black. I didn’t always agree, but there were times when I certainly wanted to, and others where I did indeed believe what Campbell was saying as it resonated so well with my own experiences.
What makes it a good book overall, is that the belief in those spiritual concepts isn’t tantamount to enjoying its lessons. What Light is the New Black preaches, more often than not, is solid practical advice, it just comes dressed up in a glittery and ethereal package. That alone is probably enough to tell you if it’s something that appeals to you, or if you’re looking for something more grounded.
If you want to pick it up yourself, here’s my Amazon UK affiliate link for Light is the New Black.
(Affiliate links are specific Amazon links that throw me a few pennies if you follow my link and decide to buy the product for yourself. I certainly understand if you don’t want to use them, but it’s a nice way to say thanks!)