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Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message
by Tara Sophia Mohr
New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2014
256 pages
Reviewed by Karen L. Erlichman

There are many books published in the spiritual and self-help genres that focus on women’s empowerment, but only a scant few are able to effectively weave together a spiritual perspective and psychological perspective. One of these rare and beautiful gems is Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, by Tara Sophia Mohr.

For the past fifteen years Mohr has been mentoring women in the areas of leadership, empowerment, and wellness, and a book version of her signature coaching program, Playing Big, is now available. Mohr is a coach, writer, and mentor with deep spiritual roots in Judaism, and her work has broad appeal to people of all faith traditions, ages, races, and walks of life.

Mohr shares much of her own story and asks thoughtful questions that invite the reader to reflect deeply on her own lived experience and inner life. This book tackles some common barriers to women’s empowerment by offering insightful, creative, and pragmatic tools for daily practice. Playing Big includes examples from Mohr’s own life as well as snapshot stories from women who have worked with her and can testify to the powerful impact this model has had on their own journeys. In the first half of the book, Mohr uncovers and explores some of the internal and external barriers as well as resources that impact women’s relationship to “bridging the gap between what we see in you and what you know about yourself” (Introduction).

I especially like the chapter “Inner Mentor,” as it creates an internalized archetype that can help guide women in their own growth and healing. “You don’t ever fully become your inner mentor. She’s not a destination at which you arrive. Rather, she’s a north star you can keep looking to, a way to navigate your path, a touchstone to return to again and again in the face of tough choices and challenging moments” (Chapter 2).

Playing Big includes the script and an audio recording of the Inner Mentor visualization, which could easily be used in individual or group spiritual direction, or on retreats for women. In addition, there are also post-visualization reflection questions for journaling or discussion.

Mohr draws on the wise teachings of one of my own mentors, Rabbi Alan Lew of blessed memory, in the chapter about “a very old new way of looking at fear.” She also introduces some concepts from Jewish wisdom about fear, namely pachad and yirah, which offer a spiritual framework for women of many cultures and faith traditions for effectively working with fear.

The structure and flow of the book make it an easy-to-use resource book not only for the industrious reader who wants to use all the exercises and reflection questions, but also for the reader who simply wants to take in the stories and wisdom and allow them to marinate over time. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for journaling or meditation practice, as well as a closing summary of the “big ideas” that were discussed in that chapter.

I have companioned many women in spiritual direction for whom traditional God language is problematic, even oppressive, so Mohr’s open, spacious way of framing that universal source is very welcoming and inclusive to everyone: “Perhaps, for you, it’s the force of Love, or of Kindness, or a force you’d call God or Life itself. Perhaps it is the force of Liberation, or the force of Empowerment. What larger force do you feel would be supportive—even thrilled about—what you are bringing into the world?” (Chapter 10).

Why I love this book: Mohr’s vision and writing are psychologically savvy without being cloying or overly simplistic. She advocates women’s empowerment and illuminates issues of gender discrimination without being dogmatic or overly simplistic. If you love the work of Brené Brown, you will love Playing Big. It is more than just a terrific read; it’s also an inspirational manual for women to celebrate fullness of their authenticity. Spiritual directors who work with female spiritual directees one-on-one as well as in group spiritual direction or on retreat will find a wellspring of resources in this book.

Karen Lee Erlichman, MSS, LCSW, lives in San Francisco, California, USA, where she provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, supervision, and mentoring. She is a cofounder of Practistry.

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