Book review: Teach Us To Sit Still

This post was written by Megan on November 15, 2011
Posted Under: book review,burnout and recovery

Teach Us to Sit Still cartoon

I've just finished reading Tim Parks' Teach Us To Sit Still – A skeptic’s search for health and healing.

Tim Parks is known in literary circles as a reputable novelist and translator. This newish book (2010) is NOT 'Sitting Still for Dummies', nor is it a literary novel. Instead Tim took up the challenge to translate himself, laying his personal story on the table. And personal it is. At very the beginning we discover Tim pees a lot. Or at least has the urge to pee often. Plus he feels pain in the nether regions much of the time.

But the medicos can't find anything wrong with the poor guy. Tim's problem officially becomes a mystery. But this doesn't stop the white coats from recommending prostate surgery. Not just exploratory. More a "Let's cut this out and see what happens" approach.

Note: The mystery illness story is one I'm familiar with. CFS/ME also has the doctors scratching their heads. Fortunately, no surgery has been recommended.


How is Tim's peeing relevant to burnout?

When I read the line "How could I ever have let myself arrive at this state?" I sat bolt upright. He was talking about the tension he holds in his body. Tim continues:

"I brushed my teeth ferociously, as if I wanted to file them down. I yanked on my socks as if determined to thrust my toes right through them. I tied my shoes as if intent on snapping the laces….My grip on the steering wheel was set to crush it. My spine was hunched rigid. My stomach turned to rock…It was as though, as far as my body was concerned, I was forever accelerating and braking in first and second, when I might perfectly well have been relaxed in forth, or even cruising in fifth…"

My car is an automatic. This means driving like a maniac without worrying about changing gears. I just plant my foot on the floor and frown a lot. But I take his point.

So Tim guides us, with humility, through the process of sitting still – and the living hell that comes with this exercise. Once you've practiced it enough (so it's less hellish), you will then go about your daily business with a greater sense of tranquility. Well, that's the idea. Logic follows that, from this point, you are likely to experience more energy.


The problem with the 'meditation' word

The "sitting still" Tim talks about is essentially meditation. But if Tim had been introduced to it as 'meditation', he would have run a mile. Or crawled a mile while in pelvic pain. Instead, it was introduced to him as a 'relaxation exercise'. That seemed to get skeptic Tim over the line.

Note: This word problem with 'meditation' was discussed in Meditation Made Manageable – mmm…


The Indian thing

Explaining meditation practice inevitably involves some weird Indian words.Tim took the trouble of listing the following and their meanings: sammasana, udayabbaya, bangha, bhaya, adinava, nibbida, muncitukamyata, patisankha, sankarupekkha, anuloma.

I resisted reading the list at first. I’m tired. I’m not interested in learning another language right now. Turns out the definitions of these words were incredibly funny. For example:

  • Bhaya, awareness that this existence is terrible;
  • Adinava, awareness that this existence is full if misery;
  • Nibbida, awareness that this existence is digusting…

And the joy goes on…


Stepping up to the plate

Throughout my recovery, I've been ear-bashed about positive affirmations. Dutifully, I've murmured "I feel great, I have boundless energy' through yawns and gritted teeth on many an occasion. It didn't make me feel better. So it's refreshing to hear from Tim that it's okay to acknowledge how crappy you feel. In fact, this acknowledgement is a vital step in genuinely moving through your symptoms to a healthier, happier life.

Acknowledgement is different to just being persistently negative – 'picking at the wound', as some might say. Tim did a good job of explaining the awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance (like AAA batteries from the East?) as footholds to pulling yourself out of the mire – whatever particular mire you have found yourself in


Who is 'us'?

Tim's title is 'Teach Us To Sit Still'. Who is the 'us' he is referring to? Of course, he means anyone – but particularly you and me.


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who enjoys sitting still – and waking up afterwards.  Find out more about Megan

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