Book Club Review: Wherever You Go There You Are

Book Review Wherever You Go There You Are Jon Kabat Zinn“When we can be centered in ourselves in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.”

Wherever You Go There You Are is a guidebook on mindfulness.

The underlying lesson is simple: be present in this moment. The execution is trickier.

Many of us live mostly in the future, a constant babble of thoughts about what we haven’t done yet, what we need to do, what we need to write down to do later.

Many of us even get caught up in the idea that this level of multi-tasking is what gives us an edge, what helps us do more, accomplish more, obtain more. 

At other times, our minds are stuck in the past, ruminating on words unsaid, injustices that shouldn’t have happened, or regrettable actions.

We are rarely present in the act of whatever we are doing.

“If we are not careful, those clouded moments can stretch out and become most of our lives.”

There is a lifetime of lessons contained in this book: on generosity, simplicity, anger, and especially resiliency.

Mindfulness invites us to sit with our emotions without judgment. To face the darkest points in our lives face-to-face.

“In persevering, we ultimately come in touch with our own goldenness as we emerge from the darkness and the submerged gloom of the underground that we most feared but nevertheless faced.”

Throughout my own experience of practicing mindfulness, I found I was open to profound, yet simple lessons that have drastically impacted my life for the better, especially in the face of challenges.

Developing a mindfulness practice is often rooted in meditation, the ultimate intentional stillness. But, what I love about this book is the author’s emphasis that mindfulness is indeed about every moment, especially the actual experience of life beyond meditation. 

All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher than the religious institutions originally worked with: reality.
Reality-insight says…master the twenty-four hours.
Do it well, without self-pity.
It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning.
One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition.
Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms.
Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick – don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits.
Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice” which will put us on a “path” – it is our path.
– Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

As I consumed the short lessons in this mindfulness how-to, I found myself sitting with the moment easily, when normally I would be speeding ahead, literally running to my next task whenever possible so I could squeeze in some cardio.

The author discusses this experience of samadhi, or the “absorption into stillness and undisturbed peacefulness” as potentially intoxicating. I was surprised at how true that was; a sense of being that felt slow and just above whatever task I was doing.

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so that I can do more, acquiring less so that I can have more. Choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more.”

Doing the dishes became one of my cornerstone practices of mindfulness each day.

I don’t use a dishwasher. I clean each dish by hand, usually at the end of the day.

Washing the dishes (of all things) has become a meaningful experience each day, one that I look forward to and come out of feeling light, reflective, and often inspired to write down some thought or idea that occurred in that open space of observing.

Driving became my mindful practice of patience.

I have existed in a chronic state of rush for so long that I find it intensely difficult to slow down, especially when driving.

This is what got me – and sticks with me every day:

“Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger.”

Now, each time I find myself impatient about the traffic or the line at the coffee shop, I clearly connect it with anger and let it go. Intentionally slowing down.

Interestingly, despite spending hours in meditation or stillness, single-tasking, and slowing down whenever I felt rushed (which is always) this past month, when I checked my facts – my billable hours, yoga classes, miles hiked, quality time spent with my children – my income held steady while everything else increased.

My priorities were clear in my actions, for once.

How often do we struggle to live the life that we set out to live? To be present as a parent? To run? To taste our food?

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment vital and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.”
– Martha Graham

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