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Review: Coming to Our Senses; Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming to our Senses

 

I was first introduced to Jon Kabat-Zinn by a YouTube video of him giving a talk at UCSD Medical Center (link at end of post). On the strength of that video, because of his insightful words and due to the profound realisations that came whilst I listened to him talking about how we can live our lives mindfully instead of mindlessly, I bought his book.

In the video he stated “We just take the fundamentals for granted.” We can all agree with that.

He went on to expound how people are so busy “doing ” that they are seldom busy “being ” and how this affects our perception of the world around us.

Have you ever had the experience of seeing but not seeing? Something is right in front of you but you aren’t aware of it, until someone points it out to you and then it’s obvious and suddenly you are aware.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007)

Again I’m sure we can all relate to that.

He talked about “falling awake ”, of becoming aware of that which surrounds us. Aware of that to which we have become desensitised and which is no longer part of our conscious awareness. Becoming aware of what is effectively invisible due to familiarity, routine, stress, habit or the ever present need to perform.

Kabat-Zinn asked three simple questions, ones which you can ask of yourself, to check whether the moments in your life are part of your life or if you are mindlessly moving through each moment on your way to the next mindless moment.
He asked:

“Are you here?” – “Who’s asking?” – “Who’s answering?”

Consider these examples that he used; “When in the shower, are you present or is your mind on preparing breakfast. When driving the children to school are you present or are you planning your morning.”  The list goes on but we can all think of times similar to these where we are physically present but not present, awake but not awake, conscious but not aware. This for a writer is a terrible thing, for the life we must breathe into our work can only come from the life we breathe in from our surroundings.

The answer to the third question “Who’s answering? ” is particularly profound. If it is not you who is answering, then who?

Unfortunately I cannot recommend that you buy the book, neither can I recommend that you do not buy it. For there is a massive amount of information and wisdom contained in the book about being mindful, about being aware and about countering mindlessness, all of which are key elements of creative journaling but unfortunately the writing style makes it a difficult read.

Sadly, Jon Kabat-Zinn is a better orator than writer and the editor has negligently left in swathes of redundancy and duplication. I found the style long-winded and repetitive, which made parts quite tiresome, far more so than they deserve to be. Mining the tomb for gems of wisdom produced enough riches that it was never a question of not finishing it, but it was necessary to read it in small doses in order to counter the ponderous prose, otherwise I would catch myself plodding through it without absorbing the content.

However, I do strongly recommend that you borrow the book and endeavour to read the first two thirds for within those pages you will find the knowledge to appreciate what “mindfulness” or “awareness” can bring to your life.

In one sentence I would describe the book as:

“How to regain control of your life, master the stress in your life and learn to appreciate both yourself and the world around you by taking advantage of directed meditation techniques.”

To convey this message Kabat-Zinn uses 631 pages split into eight parts.

1, Meditation is not what you think
2, The power of attention and the diss-ease of the world
3, The sensory world: Your one wild and precious life
4, Embracing formal practice: Tasting mindfulness
5, Healing possibilities: The realm of mind and body
6, Arriving at your own door
7, Healing the body politic
8, Let the beauty we love be what we do

The most relevant knowledge/information that is useful for creative journaling is found in parts one to six, beyond that the book is mainly waffle and repetition of what has already been said (a few times). The book starts off slowly in ‘Part 1’ where it attempts to dispel any myths the reader may hold on what meditation actually is and it presents what is possible to achieve when practicing meditation.

This is followed by the two sections which hold the greatest interest to the creative journaler. In ‘Part 2’ first Kabat-Zinn calls the reader to recognise where a person’s attention is lacking even though the person may believe the opposite. Then in ‘Part 3’ he follows this up with discussions on what he calls the “sense-scape” and identifies seven senses that form this sense-scape; soundscape, touchscape, timescape, etc.

‘Part 4’ and ‘Part 5’ are devoted to meditation teachings aimed at allowing the reader to appreciate the possibilities outlined previously. The book is not a “How To” manual on meditation and the interested reader is directed towards finding a local organisation if they seek to take the practice further.

‘Part 6’ is devoted to the concept of being busy and of unrecognised self destructive practices that are performed due to fear or comfort impulses and which block productive activity. The focus is on recognising these and using self awareness to limit their affects.

I am not including a review of parts 7 and 8, as they are not pertinent to creative journaling.

The mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn practices is derived from Zen teachings but he forcefully distances his teachings from any religious connotations, seeking instead to show reasons for the results by using examples from modern neuroscience and other scientific studies. Even so, at times the prose closely parallels “new age mumbo jumbo” (Jon’s own words) which is probably due to the difficulty of attempting to explain an intangible state of awareness that has to be experienced before it can be understood.

In summary, this book is a very good introduction into the concept of “mindfulness” and “awareness”, deserving of a place in everyone’s bookshelf. It contains very pertinent information about the senses, how they become distorted and how to overcome the distortion. Unfortunately, the book is a ponderous read and may discourage some readers, so it is best to borrow from a library before considering buying.

 

Link to the book on Amazon: Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “Coming to Our Senses”

You may also like to watch Jon Kabat-Zinn’s lectures about mindfulness on YouTube:

Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks at UCSD Medical Center on the topic of “Coming to Our Senses”

Jon Kabbat-Zinn leads a session on Mindfulness at Google
 

Review: Coming to Our Senses; Jon Kabat-Zinn” by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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