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'The How' is a hopeful meditation on self-worth and healing

<em>The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself,</em> Yrsa Daley-Ward
Penguin Books
The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, Yrsa Daley-Ward

These days, we're surrounded by advice on life.

When the world feels too heavy, many of us scroll through Instagram and feel comforted by small doses of daily inspiration from accounts like SourceMessages and Jamila Reddy.

We're used to seeing these messages on our social media feeds, but how do they translate into a book? In The How, Yrsa Daley-Ward brings these soothing words to life, in a book that feels like a meditation and a guide, a therapy session and a cup of chamomile tea.

I have followed Daley-Ward's poetry for years, through her books and popular Instagram page — for its tenderness and warmth. Last summer, she began communicating on Instagram through other means, too — letters and reflections. I started copying them down into my journals: "You are everything that you remember, and you are always so much more."

The How is a book full of these reminders, a collection of affirmations and mindfulness exercises on self-love, growth and healing. Its name describes our culture of self-optimization that tells us how to look effortless and successful but that ultimately takes us away from ourselves. As Daley-Ward explains, "We have absorbed so much of the outside. It is a mass to unlearn, a voyage back to center."

"The How" is a metaphor for how we can undo this social conditioning and trace our way back to who we truly are. It's a book for the present moment, in our global state of healing, when many of us have become more honest about our fear and uncertainty, are learning to prioritize our well-being, and feel open to moving beyond performances.

It may seem like a self-help book, but it resonated with me because it felt like a conversation with a friend or older sibling. It wasn't prescriptive or formulaic — it's without any psychological frameworks or three-step plans — and instead felt vulnerable, accessible and personal. Passages Daley-Ward writes in second person make you feel like the author understands you and that you are both in this together: "I see you and I recognize your fear. You see me and you understand mine...We have been living among each other for too long to not see that we have them in common."

I didn't expect the book to ask me to engage with it, telling me to smile for 10 seconds and observe how my body reacts, then instructing me to say "no NO nooooo no" in several different voices (I needed the practice). It's a completely interactive experience, with questions, challenges and journaling prompts placed throughout the chapters.

After exploring deep topics like grief, loneliness and self-worth, which can feel insurmountable, I was grateful that the book explains how to feel better, through specific solutions and new behaviors, and encourages readers to practice them. Left to my own devices, I would have happily skipped over the more difficult assignments, but with a new one every few pages, I felt more motivated to get started, and confident once I had made the first step.

Sometimes, The How can feel repetitive in structure, following the same rhythm of lessons, exercises and affirmations. But Daley-Ward's voice is most compelling when she weaves in her personal stories to show, not tell. Most of the book is written from an all-knowing voice, but it connects best when Daley-Ward shares the intimate details of how she is on this journey with us and has "been writing to herself by writing to you."

This is a book to be taken in slowly, in the minutes before bedtime, or to return to in times of need. It's a map that takes us from where we are to where we want to be, and has helped me feel hopeful and prepared to start the journey.

Nayantara Dutta is a freelance writer, poet and strategist. You can find her @nayantaradutta.

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Nayantara Dutta