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Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are ...
Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2014
Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are is about mindfulness. According to the author, "Mindfulness means paying attention [to the world] in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." That sentence seems a little obscure, and whenever I've attempted to explain mindfulness or meditation to friends, it's as though I can never make myself clear and they still walk away thinking it's all hokum. In spite of my inability to make it totally clear by definition, maybe I could illustrate it using some examples that Kabat-Zinn would probably approve of.
Take any given moment your in. I take it that you're sitting down somewhere right now reading this review. Focus on your breath. Notice how unaware of your own breathing you were before. Now, while reading this, expand the focus from your breath to the sensation of your body, your bottom against your seat perhaps, or the way the tip of your nose might feel cold or hot. Further expand the field of awareness to the sounds around you. Maybe you hear noise from other people. Maybe you hear nothing except the sound of your own breathing.
Project this mode of being aware into another setting. Perhaps you're at work, and someone is telling you how to do something. You might feel seeds of resentment growing inside you, asking the question in your mind how it is this person has the gall to tell you how do so something. You might feel personally attacked, a little nervous, your breath unsteady. Be aware of these sensations. Don't fight against them. But also listen to what the person says, as much as possible, without judgment. Is what this person is saying really a personal attack? Probably not. And if it is, does it really matter? Does he or she have control of your mind such that he could actually make you feel one way or another? Not if you choose to respond to it in a peaceful, proactive way and just take it for what it is, without judgment.
Maybe the above two paragraphs don't do it for you. Or maybe they do. The important thing is that mindfulness is about being aware and awake, and about choosing to make peace with the way you feel and the way you interact with the world. If you want to, you can always feel swept around by the winds of desire, or pulled around by anger or intense emotion as though there were a brass ring in your nose. Those are always options. But it's also another option to choose to practice inner tranquility. This is what this book is about.