The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself

Image of The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself
Release Date: 
November 2, 2021
Penguin Books
Reviewed by: 

From the first pages of The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, Yrsa Daley-Ward lets us know that there is no right way to read this book.

“Suppose this powerful new beginning leads us to THE HOW.” . . . “It will not be a direct path; we can be sure of that.”

The reader can choose to read this book from front to back, or jump between reflections, stop and write, or ponder for a few days. Any approach to reading The How will lead to meditations on the self, and on our relationship to others and to the world at large.

Each one of the 34 reflections in the book keeps the same structure. A prose poem followed by a prompt. “Try it,” the poet commands. These prompts are not meant to produce writing although they might. Rather, they are guiding posts to follow in the path of self-exploration.

“Every day practice writing down the things you feel good about.” Or “Try something else. The life force in you is willing you to go on winning.” Your own self waits for you at the end of the road. Just be patient. The poet reminds us that joy will come.

The book also draws from the mindfulness practice of grounding to guide the readers in the process of self-understanding. For instance, the following paragraph shows the readers how to be present:

“When you are outdoors, try to spend some moments where you allow everything to occur to you as if by magic and chance. To notice is to fall in love with the gifts of the everyday, over and over again. To notice is to open up and allow things to become part of the experience. It clears the mess from the mind, allows space for the new. The next time you leave the house, or gaze out of a window, consider the following: What do I notice? What are the elements that call out to me? How do they appeal to my senses? What do they remind me of?”

Between reflections, capitalized pages send a loud message in the form of spoken word, requesting to be heard.


These lyrical lessons on self-exploration suggest readers to look both in and outside, listen to the mind as well as the body. “Take a walk inside,” the poet instructs, then invites the reader to feel the sensations around the crown of the head, its weight, its light and pulse. The 34 reflections ponder on sex life, violence, self-acceptance, boundaries, fluidity, finding purpose, solitude, work/life balance, wealth, along with a plethora of themes usually explored in self-help books. Only this is not a self-help book. “I do not claim to know anything remotely new.” This is spoken poetry combined with mindful meditations on issues that affect our inner life.

The How should not be seen as a simple set of instruction on how to discover oneself. Although it presents a different aesthetics from traditional poetry or that born in academia, it does not lack richness of depth. Ysra Daley-Ward is an urban poet, fashionable and trendy. All that information is out of the text, of course. But it is important to understand that this poet writes brief pieces during commutes and posts them in social media, hence the simplicity of language and clarity of messages. “Here is a simple prescription: allow yourself beauty.”

“We must touch upon The Phone,” she says. “This machine transcending continents and time zones.” Daley-Ward’s work is meant to be a breath of fresh air, cleaned off complicated metaphors or analogies, no obscure references. The How is poetry meant for the short attention of the social media consumer. Unlike social media poetry, The How does not alter the image. It presents humanity in its naked truth. “We can only be the sum of our focus.” Her audience is already hooked, and she knows she has their eyes. In return, she offers wisdom, and the beauty of poetry.

Beyond the guidance, Daley-Ward also delights us with exquisite language based in nature: The head as the sky: [the crown of the head] “the top constellation of your home. Acknowledge your dome, perforated with scores of points of energy.” The self as water/sexual fluidity: “water shifts, allows itself to be added unto, turned over, thrown against the wall.”

Perhaps the most important lesson in the book is for writers, “If I choose to produce as much written work as I can and honor every single deadline without fail and remember to optimize everything, I will be doing as much less of the other stuff. . . . Forget fun . . .  Forget any sex at all . . .”

The How: Notes on tThe Great Work of Meeting Yourself will inspire those embarked in a journey of honest, unfiltered self-discovery.