By Brent R. Oliver
Chris Grosso is a man who is full of heart.
That heart, in turn, is full of sadness, pain, humor, and hope. He brings all of that to his newest book, Dead Set on Living: Making the Difficult but Beautiful Journey from Fucking Up to Waking Up. It’s especially compelling considering how many times his heart has almost stopped beating.
Mr. Grosso isn’t shy about laying out his history of self-destructive behavior, and the fact that it’s something he still struggles with. He writes with a bold and often painful honesty regarding his addictions and recoveries, loves and losses, triumphs and defeats. As bleak as the subject matter can be, it’s there to be contrasted with Grosso’s persistent, battle-scarred efforts at healing through his spiritual path. Like most ridiculously difficult endeavors, this isn’t something that can be done alone, and Grosso doesn’t rely solely on his own experience to illustrate the healing theme of this book.
His story is woven throughout Dead Set on Living, but he calls on numerous other teachers, meditators, writers, doctors, activists, artists and anyone else who can shed light on addiction and recovery. They share their own tales, as well as the things that have helped them and their clients the most. Together, they present numerous practices from many different traditions and approaches designed to allow us to be more forgiving and compassionate with ourselves. In addition, they shed light on how our brains and bodies can sink into deeply unhealthy habits and harmful behaviors and, more importantly, how to climb out.
Grosso and his cohorts are investigating suffering, from both spiritual and scientific viewpoints, and showcasing methods to alleviate it.
This book is priceless because of the sheer volume of information and techniques included. I was exposed to lots of stuff I’d never considered before. Hell, some of it I’d never even heard of. This is a primer on how to deal with the stress and discomfort inherent in being human.
But, for me, it keeps coming back to Mr. Grosso and his story. His unwavering candor, his dogged insistence on examining his faults, pain, and weaknesses, give him nowhere to hide (not even from himself). He’s laid bare, and I can’t imagine the courage it took to do that. He’s showing us that it’s possible to keep going, to always keep going, no matter how often we stumble, fall, and break bones.
This book is an important reminder that the spiritual path isn’t one of gleaming perfection or sainthood; it’s dirty, rough, and often brutal. But it’s also beautiful, as are we perfectly flawed humans. We will all continue to fuck up; the important thing is we keep trying to wake up.
Chris Grosso is an amazing example.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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Brent is a coach in Shinzen Young’s Unified Mindfulness system because it’s just such an approach. He works with individuals interested in everything from alleviating stress to pursuing classical enlightenment. He also coaches groups, and offers presentations to companies, schools, and organizations curious about the benefits of mindfulness. In addition to being a columnist at The Tattooed Buddha, Brent’s writing has also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Morpheus. He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife, two cats, and a crippling addiction to horror. Swing by his website brentpurpleoliver.com for more information.