Teach Us to Sit Still
by Tim Parks
Published by CCV Digital 02/17/2010
Tim Parks, a tremendously good writer (he nearly got the Booker one year), has written a wonderful book: "Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing".
He paints himself as the typical writer, living in his head the whole time. The dramatic parts of his life are continually seen through the lens of the words that he will use to describe the events later. He is utterly and obliviously disconnected from his body. When his bladder and various other bits start acting up, he soldiers bravely through the pain. He is uncomfortable for years: more and more so as time passes. He is in constant opposition to his pain, battling it, belittling it. A battery of medical tests show nothing.
Eventually (and it is a very long and tortured eventually), he finds relief through meditation.
This is a wonderful book. I was riveted to it. I downloaded it via Kindle for iPhone, and read the whole thing in a couple of days, on my phone -- which played havoc with my eyes. But I could not put it down. I love his novels and other books, because he writes with such searing and exact humour. This book is no different, and is a deeply honest (and funny) account of his struggle to find health. The solution, he realises in the end, is to stop fighting the pain, stop fighting his body, stop trying to describe everything to himself, and just learn to sit still. Which he does.
Anyone who has ever meditated will laugh out loud at his perfect rendering of the self-obsessed and incessant dialogue that goes on in the brain while you are trying to sit still. There are a hundred other things that will resonate with TMS people, and perhaps help. He never mentions TMS or "mind body syndrome", but it is clear that this is what he has. He just uses different words to describe his discomfort.
The appeal of conversion stories often depends on descriptions of the darkness before enlightenment: we enjoy learning in detail about the presalvation misery, debauchery or sinfulness. The more detail, the better. The English novelist Tim Parks understands that principle. In his urbane, droll, weird yet far from charmless account of the pain and misery suffered by his body in general, and by his bladder, prostate, penis and related bits in particular, the conversion is from a cerebral, anxious, hunched-over and compulsively verbalkvetch(not his term, but the literal “squeeze” makes the Yiddish word seem appropriate) to something resembling the opposite...
In a hallmark of conversion narratives, the original mania reproduces itself as a mirror image: in the old days, hyperbolically anxious; in the new, hyperbolically anxious to enumerate the old anxiety. To his credit, Parks doesn't pretend otherwise. Moreover, his personal account, never preachy, engages some serious matters about contemporary life, notably what it's like to be a patient, as nearly all of us, sooner or later, are or will be.
If you have read this book, feel free to add your own review of it as a forum post.
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