Maro Vamvounaki is a psychologist, a lawyer and a writer – a prolific one, actually. Apart from novels and short stories, she has also published a series of psychology books.
I know some of you are bound to say: “Psychology? Old news; and you’ll find a psychologist under every rock”. But this is not the case when we talk about Maro Vamvounaki – plain Maro for her fans. She manages to swing successfully between a secularized version of everyday psychology and brave scholarship; something that makes her books both easily comprehensible and well-founded.
Not in the least detached from living reality, working, creating; a mother from Crete – with all the insecurities and temperament that this mixture entails; the woman next door; Maro offers (through her stories and interjections) conclusions – teachings of psychology that is not as dry-cut as presented by 19+1 tips “to be always right” on the pages of illustrated magazines or morning TV shows. You could easily run into Maro drinking coffee on the boat from Peiraeus to Crete, smiling warmly, approachable, earthly, mundane really, yet so deeply settled in her experience.
Let us note here that Maro is not afraid to make leaps from the classic figures of psychoanalysis (Freud, Jung, etc.) to church scholars (Paul the Apostle, etc.) and from noted writers (Saint-Exupéry, Bukai, Kazantzakis, etc.) to other philosophical schools of thought, in order to provide arguments for her writings; in order to lavish her reader with the deep contemplation of the mundane through focused kaleidoscopes of an entirely solid basis.
In her works, Maro describes people and events highly likely to remind you of someone or something from your environment – from your family possibly. You will see that what we sometimes consider pathological is fully explainable; that its mystery can be analyzed through cause and effect; that, in the end, it can be simplified, analyzed, manageable.
From the many books in the sphere of psychology that Maro has written, we have chosen to focus on A large heart fills with very little (2010, Psichogios Publications), whose title is based on a phrase by Italian thinker and poet Antonio Porchia. The title alone predisposes us of the context, which just roughly indulges the title – since the stories, despite the fact that they are not vertebrate, are linked by an operative sequence that guides us to the penultimate aftermath. This is the first (but not the only) book from Maro’s collection that we will present here on the platform of BeautyGuard; and it was not randomly chosen, since it is representative of the author’s style as well as of never diminishing interest to the average reader who does not merely want a “beach read” or “eye chewing gum”.
As a token mental tour in the pages of A large heart fills with very little, we will make brief stops which do not necessarily condense the most essential messages of the book; yet they offer a taste of a unique (in her kind) author, of her selflessly wandering train of thought and, in the end, of the significant meaning easily deducted from the sum.
We begin by deconstructing a great part of so-called “great loves” (in no case with a nihilistic reasoning – besides Maro always leaves an optimistic aftertaste in the end; a feasibility for improvement, in the context of personal freedom). Indeed, it is a bit harsh seeing in print that, sometimes, we do not fall in love with the person but with the situation, the “convenience” of it, the momentum of inactivity that does not try to be inconvenienced – that loves its own certainty.
From the brief story of a pathological liar, we can comprehend the power of suggestion, the width of a constructed universe which one can create for themselves, the repulsion of reality as a minimum defense mechanism against a living routine too difficult to be experienced.
What follows is the analysis of the sort of compulsiveness that dominates rural holidays (we have to eat breakfast since we paid for it; we should buy honey from this place; let’s go see this; it’s a shame not to do that). The analysis is as far as possible from sugar-coating the pill for Greeks who cannot afford to go on holidays anymore (besides, the book was published in 2010, before the financial crisis really bared its teeth); yet it succeeds in pinpointing what marks “break”, “rest”, “peace”, “balance”, in their true meaning. Lo and behold! All these can be achieved in Athens in August… Maro analyzes how: not with 10+1 hot spots; just with some internal work.
We move on to the fear of expressing our true emotions. Raised in the extrovert (yet of intense social control) Cretan society, Maro casts a brave eye on all those who hide their big secrets deep inside them, whose very silence is screaming, whose very parents dare not face them with frankness; and, in the end, she praises the greatness of healthy innerness, the necessity of a constant internal journey towards our own truth, the inalienable right to silence and loneliness – as long as it does not injure essential social behavior and, as such, constitutes the diving board for our submersion in the deep true Ego.
Maro does not restrain her need to deconstruct fear, any fear, which has nailed entire generations to convention, pretension, social compulsion – to misery, in the end. A genuine supporter of the responsibility that comes with individual freedom in life, she will confirm from analytical starting points the findings of a recent relevant research, according to which the most common regret among dying people is that they lived the way others wanted them to…
However, Maro will not stroke the immaturity of the inactive and will not lay conveniently all the burden on bad parenting. She will bring her readers before their responsibilities – not by waving the finger at them but in a way that cannot be easily refuted by common sense. She will offer a solution: the well documented look, the brave one, the quite analytical one; along with the irrefutable freedom to correct our mistakes – otherwise, what is the point of freedom? She will merely show the tools that are there to be used by those who do not hesitate to look deep inside themselves.
The book then passes to eating disorders with a psychic causality, to the analysis of the terrible sentiment of jealousy (a vile yet so common sentiment in our world), in order to pinpoint the causes, the springs and, finally, the way out (for the carrier as well as the victim).
Maro will not leave the great protagonists of psychoanalysis untouched: denial, repression, transference, reversal; all those defense mechanisms that, one way or another, people use to face the difficulties in life. Through vivid stories and real life examples, she will give these scientific terms a casual outfit; she will dress them up in a way that the average reader (who wants their mind to progress) can comprehend.
Maro will also deconstruct the oft inherited impatient tendency of the Greeks to “get it over with”; a tendency that so robs us of the ability to pleasantly experience the present, our moments of happiness that are frequently sacrificed for the programmed, the “right”, the important, the future… The reader will justifiably wonder: what is important in the end?
Let us also note, for the occasional prejudiced reader, that the patristic eye of Maro on things has anything but a conventional religious viewpoint. The excerpts from the words of Jesus or the great writers of the church are not presented as punishing conventionality. Instead, they are chosen in order to evolve her train of thought with a fully positive, progressive, humanistic look of a completion that draws from Christianity the deepest essence of the faith’s meaning. Therefore, do not hasten to think that Maro is selling religion in a nice little package; you couldn’t be further from the truth… Next to Paul the Apostle’s Letter to Corinthians you will find the famous maxim of Kazantzakis from his Report to Greco…
In the unsurpassed book A large heart fills with very little, I saw something what generation after generation has experienced (and may still do) on Sunday afternoon become words: this tightening in the diaphragm (the ancients’ “solar plexus” that constituted the position of the soul), a remnant of our schooling years, the sense that tomorrow starts yet another week of obligations… How can you not admire the timelessness of this unique writer in the greatness of her simplicity?
Therefore, we recommend Maro Vamvounaki without scruples and we begin our acquaintance with her with A large heart fills with very little; not just as a pleasant and interesting read but also as a starting point of self-betterment – one successfully balanced between science and secularization, away from convenient clichés and detailed tedious theories.