The time-honored national bestseller, updated with a new afterword, celebrating 10 years of influencing the way we live. When Wherever You Go, There You Are was first published in 1994, no one could have predicted that the book would launch itself onto bestseller lists nationwide and sell over 750,000 copies to date. Ten years later, the book continues to change lives. In honor of the book's 10th anniversary, Hyperion is proud to be releasing the book with a new afterword by the author, and to share this wonderful book with an even larger audience.
This book is made up of short chapters. There is a little bit of "how to," but even more reflection on the role of meditation and mindfulness in our lives. So, while people looking for a mediation guidebook might not find what they need here, it was quotes like this one that made this a worthwhile read for me:
"Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life. Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment, and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next."
Just before reading this book I had read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a classic book on meditation and Buddhist precepts published in 1975, and which made Kabat-Zinn's book seem rather superfluous. Consisting primarily of what was originally written as a "long letter" Hanh in its 100 pages tells you almost everything (and more) than Kabat-Zinn does in over 270 pages. Hanh's book is more succinct yet more detailed in its exercises and explanation of breath and postures, more lucid and insightful, and is the kind of book that though deceptively simple, rewards repeated reading. I felt Kabat-Zinn's on the other hand was filled with boilerplate New Age filler and stuffed with a lot of quotations by others such as Whitman, Tao-te-Ching, and especially Thoreau. About the only additional material were a couple of pages on the position of the hands during meditation, a suggestion formal meditation be practiced for 45 minutes every day when you can, and that it's useful to do yoga, and that his personal daily "core routine" contains "twenty or so postures." That's it. I just don't see the use of having both books, and I can't see choosing Kabat-Zinn's over Hanh's.
I loved it until the part when he was in favor in staying in bad situations rather than ' running '. So if you have an abusive, rude, mean spirited, etc boss, boyfriend, next door neighbor who is make your life a misery, one should continue to deal with it, especially when there are options available to get away and protect yourself, your feelings, your own self-respect ? Sorry Jon, life is too short to be in a miserable situation for one extra second, when you have an option to leave.
I wanted to shoot myself when I got to the chapters on parenting, as I am not a parent, but felt if I skipped over those 2 chapters, then I would be cheating by saying I read the book, so got thru it reluctantly. The last chapter was the final straw, when discussing his views on spiritually, which he does not seem to deem very important or worthy.
So it started with 5 stars and went down to 3 by the time I got thru with it.
Things started off well. I appreciated the lightheartedness of such comments as meditation "does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed, narcissist, navel gazer, [or] space cadet". The book was laid out in a way that aimed to provide quick and easy access to the fundamentals of mindfulness meditation, with the message that anyone can meditate. However, for me the book didn't live up to the goal of making mindfulness meditation more accessible, and to be honest I was very tempted to give up partway through.
The book was more focused on formal meditation practice than I was expecting. The author writes about sitting to meditate not simply as the physical act of sitting but as a sort of profound capital-S Sitting. I've heard that use of the term before and it has always somehow struck me as a tad pretentious. Walking meditation was also covered, with a lot of attention given to a formal practice that involves walking back and forth focusing on the motions of walking. I was disappointed by this, as one of my favourite ways to be mindful is to go out for walks and pay attention to the many small beauties of nature. At the stress reduction clinic where the the author practices, they have clients do an introduction to lying meditation that involves a 45 minute body scan while lying down, which is fine, but I don't think that it's something that's necessarily a draw for people who aren't wanting to make a considerable commitment to formal meditation practice.
There were some very good suggestions, including trusting your own ability to reflect and grow and being generous to yourself and others. Kabat-Zinn explains that it's possible to find understanding and transformation in the present moment. He wrote "You cannot escape yourself, try as you might". A variety of metaphors were used that seemed quite intuitive, such as you can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf, and awareness is like a pot that is able to contain strong emotions. Other metaphors made less sense to me, like the idea that we are dancing mountains or that parenting is like an extended meditation retreat, with the child as the Zen master. He also likened sitting with our breathing to sitting by an open fire back in the caveman days.
At times the book tends to venture into more obscure territory, and this is where it really lost me. The author suggests contemplating "what is my Way?" as part of meditation practice, and adds that "as a human being, you are the central figure in the universal hero's mythic journey." A quirk that irritated me slightly was his apparent love-on for Henry David Thoreau's book Walden, which is quote frequently. I'm not familiar with that book, and am really not sure why I'm supposed to care about it.
I think my view on the book would have been different had I been looking for something heavily focused on formal meditation. However, that's just not the way that I'm wanting to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life. I'm not someone who has any desire to go to a silent meditation retreat; that's not how I choose to go about my inwardly and outwardly mindful journey.
I will leave you with this sentence from the afterword, which I think really captures the book as a whole: "Can we realize that wherever we go, there we are and that this 'there' is always 'here' and so requires at least acknowledgment and perhaps a degree of acceptance of what is, however it is, because it already is?"
Overall, I doubt it's going to convince anyone who is highly sceptical to begin with, or help anyone start a practice ex nihilo. But it's worth reading, and sitting with, and thinking about, if you can put aside scepticism and just try it.
One thing I especially liked was that Kabat-Zinn doesn't have any thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots about this. There's recommendations, suggestions, but also reminders that any moment of mindfulness in the day, however short, is valuable.