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Book Review: Meditation Is Not What You Think

How many minutes—or hours—do you miss in a day wishing that you were home when you’re out at work, yearning to do nothing when you’re busy doing something, feeling pressured to do something when you’re doing nothing, worrying about what you didn’t do yesterday or need to do tomorrow, wishing to sleep when you’re awake and staying frustratingly awake when you want to be sleeping. Your life doesn’t need to be this way.

Since reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic, Wherever You Go, There You Are, in the late 1990s, I’ve attended a few meditation workshops and use deep-breathing to relax, mostly to fall asleep (an easy process that works like a charm). I picked up his newest book, Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important, to see what more he had to say on the subject. The evidence is in: meditation has great value.

Meditation is about not acting on the human tendency to gaze at every shiny object that comes along—within and outside of our minds—in order to stay connected to the present moment. It reduces anxiety: there’s nowhere to go but where we are, nothing to do but be present, no pressing concerns, not even any un-pressing concerns. How do we do this? According to Kabat-Zinn, “By paying wise attention to whatever arises in our experience instead of what we usually tend to do, which is either not to pay attention to it at all, or alternatively, to wallow in it, romanticize it, quietly and hopelessly endure it, struggle against it, downright drown in it, or endlessly distract ourselves to escape from it.” (p. 112) These behaviors sure sound frustratingly familiar and human to me.

Most dysregulated eaters have high levels of anxiety and spend more mental time in the past and future than in the present. Many are caught up in mental states that Kabat-Zinn describes as judging ourselves and others, reacting too quickly, and feeling impatient when life doesn’t jive with our chosen schedule, rather than on keeping a present focus by simply noticing and accepting what is. As such, they miss out on not only a great deal of what’s happening around them but also on what’s happening inside them. As Kabat-Zinn explains so simply, “Each moment missed is a moment unlived.” (p. 59) Sadly, many people miss almost their entire lives by constantly being pulled back into the mental past and catapulting their minds endlessly and futilely into the mental future.

To change this pattern, read Kabat-Zinn’s books, check out his videos, learn more about mindful meditation at https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/, or visit a local meditation center. Stop telling yourself you don’t have time to meditate. It’s not time you lack, but intention.

Best,

Karen

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