Publishing My First Book: 20 Unexpected Things

Who knew that writing a book would look like this?

Recently a friend challenged me to make a list of some of the remarkable things that came out of writing Heartwood: The Art of Living with the End in Mind.

The past year has been a whirlwind of epic proportions for me personally, and Heartwood felt like a little being that was born, grew wings of its own, and zipped off with me chasing after it.

I wrote Heartwood to make meaning of the losses of my life and to show a different way of approaching life by living with the end in mind.

So the first thing on the list still feels raw and a bit shocking:

#1 – I was diagnosed with breast cancer just as Heartwood was released. I spent my book launch day in the hospital having surgery.  Thankfully, it was caught early and my doctors say I’m clear now, though my life has unquestionably changed.  What a rubber-meets-the-road moment

Thankfully, things began looking up from there:

#2 – Publishers Weekly gave Heartwood a Starred Review and Kirkus called it A graceful meditation on divine deliverance.

#3 – Gloria Steinem invited me to her townhouse in NYC to talk about Heartwood:   “My reading pile is long and never ending, but I happily made my way through Heartwood. Barbara reminded me that life is an adventure of following our curiosity – that is, the voice of our true self – into the unknown world around us. What could be better?”

#4 – Some pretty extraordinary leaders and spiritual beings endorsed it as well:  Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, Sharon Salzberg, Roshi Joan Halifax, Mirabai Starr, Dave Isay of StoryCorps, and Jonathan Haidt.  Bless you all!

#5 – Though the book launched during the height of a COVID lock-down, I had a release party with over 350 people registered at one of most appropriate places of all places:  Green-Wood Cemetery (an historic NYC cemetery and an arboretum, all rolled up into one) with my Zen teacher, Sensei Robert Chodo Campbell.

#6-  NY Public Library named Heartwood Book of the Day.

#7 – President Obama read Heartwood and wrote me the loveliest holiday note.

#8 – I had a conversation with over 150 corporate executives on the role of empathy in the workplace. The head of the organization’s reaction was: Vulnerability has a new spokesperson, and Barbara Becker is it.

#9 – Heartwood won a 2022 Gold Nautilus Award.

#10 – I gave a keynote on grief at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a massive international gathering that I attended in awe for the first time 3 years before.

#11 – The Unitarian Universalists now include Heartwood as required reading in their adult education program, Wellspring. Hartford Seminary included it as required reading in a class on Death and Dying.  And the International End of Life Doula Association named Heartwood Media of the Month.

#12 – Heartwood was published in Portuguese in Brazil.  Audio recording by the award-winning actor/narrator Gabra Zackman.

#13- Funny to see Heartwood sold in places like Walmart and Target. 

#14- Even better to see it in amazing indie bookstores as well as libraries across the country.  Thank you everyone who sent photos when you encountered it!

#15- A Heartwood-inspired writing prompt appeared in the Isolation Journals by the ever-inspiring Suleika Jaouad:  “Simplify Simplify.  If you were to let go of 3 things before bedtime tonight, what would they be?  What would you gain by letting them go?”

#16 – Dozens of heart-opening media interviews, podcasts, and workshops that I was invited to join, from NYC to Singapore to Mexico. Many of these people will be life-long friends.

#17- During the summer of 2022, a quote from Heartwood was featured on every GT Dave’s Synergy Kombucha Trilogy bottle across North AmericaWe can do extraordinary things when we lead with love.

#18 – Started hearing instances of the Heartwood metaphor used in memorial services around the country: Just as with the heartwood of a tree—the central core that is no longer alive yet supports the newer growth rings—the dead become a source of enduring strength to the living.

#19 – My kids actually read it 😉

#20 – Most important to me are the messages I’ve received from people who are processing loss or are facing the end of their own lives, or who took loss to mean other life-changing events – loss of jobs, relationships, homes, health-status, etc.  You are all in my heart.

I’ll continue to talk wherever I am asked, including book groups (there’s a great reader’s guide here), houses of worship of all traditions, hospice groups, etc.  Just ask, and if I can make it, I will join you!  Next up Lenox, MA. 

Here’s what I have to say:  if you have a story you are itching to tell, please share it. It’s a way of paying the lessons of your life forward. It would be my honor to read it.

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