It’s no secret, I’m into self-help and self-development books. I enjoy them thoroughly, and have received quite an amount of insight from them. In terms of meditation and Zen books I have read a few, some good, some bad. Some even interesting. There was this one book, I can’t remember its name, but it was approaching Zen from the point of archery. Though short, it was still a good book.
I was looking into my bookmarks yesterday and I saw that some articles have been piled up on Safari’s reading list. Most of them were from LinkedIn’s “productivityHacks” articles, which got my attention because I’ve been working on to improve my note taking and task management skills these days. I stumbled upon the mention of “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s a book that covers meditation and its promise is “meditation is understood wrongly, non-doing is a better approach than doing nothing”. I thought I should give it a shot and ordered it from Amazon.
The way that self-development books go, some of them are pretty bullshit. But even in a pile of bullshit, you can sometimes glimpse into something useful. But to be honest, I’ve never read a self-development book that’s this full of bullshit as “Wherever You Go, There You are” is. A meditation book at that.
I gave the book a fair chance. With the COVID-19 and everything, I felt like I needed a bit of a light on my path. The book started interesting, mentioning how mindfulness is not a state that you should pursue, it’s a way of letting yourself feel what you feel, observe what you think. I like that approach, not many books cover it that way. To most books, meditation is a promise that can lead you to a better life, to salvation. Like I said the book started nicely:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.
Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannise us.
These were from the first 20 pages of the book. I was thinking, “It’s a good start, but why is this book more than 270 pages?”. While reading, some of the sections felt too elementary, so I started skimming the book. I got faster with each chapter, only reading random sentences in each chapter, because;
- It quickly broke its promise of “mindfulness is not a state you should pursue” and started talking about what do you need to do to achieve mindfulness,
- It started to give out formulas, including how you should sit and what you should/shouldn’t do, which broke its promise.
Some of these formulas even got really specific. For example, there are sections talking specifically how you can meditate under certain conditions like walking or doing chores, which are fine. But the method examples in the book, they get weird as they go. Here’re some examples:
- The Mountain Meditation (which is a cool visualisation example, I liked this method)
- The Lake Meditation (another visualisation example, liked this one, too)
- Walking Meditation (talking about how to meditate while walking, not a visualisation method, but cool)
- Standing Meditation (a bit of a stretch in this context but useful when commuting, etc.)
- Lying-Down Meditation (now it’s weird)
- Sitting by Fire (getting weirder)
- Going Upstairs (it’s still weird upstairs)
- Cleaning the Stove While Listening to Bobby McFerrin (who the heck is Bobby McFerrin?)
- What is My Job on the Planet with a Capital J? (existentialism, maybe? But why Buckminster Fuller?)
- Interconnectedness (now you’re just using fancy words just to use them)
- Eachness and Suchness (Suchness? Really?)
- Selfing ([insert facepalm here])
I mean, come on! I know some of these chapters are touching some nice subjects, but the whole book is a tribute to Henry David Thoreau, who is a respected philosopher, but I can’t see how he can be the leading example in a meditation book. And that’s solely because the author believes Thoreau is a more Western character that can be a better bridge than the Eastern examples.
The book feels too much like a “new age crap”, another book that’s trying to simplify and sell principals of Eastern cultures to the busy-minded Westerners by degrading it. It’s a cheap trick, a sales method like “sex sells”. There’re many, many meditation and Zen books, which are still bad but not as bad as this one. Yes, you don’t have to be a guru or a Zen master if you start meditation, but you also shouldn’t degrade the entire philosophy into a bland concoction and sugarcoat it so it’s easier to swallow.
The book promises big, but it fails to deliver on that promise. I’d rather read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” cover to cover and get more insight from it, even though it’s basically another book scheme to pull desperate people into a profiting cult machine.
As a final point, when I was ordering the book I didn’t check its Goodreads score. 4.14 over 36k ratings, which is a pretty good score, I’d even buy the book just based on that. But, it’d still be a mistake. Either I’m not seeing what those people are seeing, or vice-versa.