Wherever You Go, There You Are

This is one of the best books on mindfulness I’ve ever read.

The word ‘mindfulness’ is thrown around a lot nowadays, but if you’re going to start somewhere, there’s probably no better place than here. The author Jon Zinn was one of the key figures that helped bridge meditation from east/west and speaks from a Western perspective — no fluff. He dispels a lot of the New-Age ideas about “letting go” and paints a more realistic picture of what meditation is and isn’t.

Beyond meditation, Zinn encourages us not to retreat from our lives, but rather, use these techniques to become better at what we are already doing. One question that’s posed in the book struck me as very important, which I’ve asked myself a few times in the past year. I think it’s a good one to write down and stare at for a couple of hours, at least once a year.

“What is it on this planet that needs doing that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?”

Whether you already have some sort of meditation practice, or are simply curious, this is an easily accesible guide full of insight and depth, from meditation to managing the stresses of your daily life and search for meaning.

Memorable quotes:

  1. 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 tyrannize us.
  2. Ordinarily, when we undertake something, it is only natural to expect a desirable outcome for our efforts. We want to see results, even if it is only a pleasant feeling. The sole exception I can think of is meditation. Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.
  3. Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. It all ties in.
  4. A commitment to getting up early to meditate becomes independent of wanting or not wanting to do so on any particular morning. The practice calls us to a higher standard—that of remembering the importance of wakefulness and the ease with which we can slip into a pattern of automatic living which lacks awareness and sensitivity. Just waking up early to practice non-doing is itself a tempering process.
  5. Zen practitioners have the wholly irreverent and wonderfully provocative saying, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him,” which means that any conceptual attachments to Buddha or enlightenment are far from the mark.

One of my big takeaways: Why being detached is bad whereas being non-attached is good

One of the purported benefits of meditation is greater “non-attachment” to things in our lives, which then leads to reduced stress and increased awareness in our relationships and experiences. When people hear this they often confuse non-attachment with detachment. Although they sound similar, they are worlds apart.

Detachment implies that you’re removed from a situation to the point of not caring about it. If I’m detached from my performance at work, it means I could care less about my results. It could result in self-denial, indifference and escaping into my own little world. This lack of emotional engagement can also lead to giving up too soon and egotistical behavior (the far end of the detachment spectrum is sociopathy).

Non-attachment, on the other hand, just means that your sense of self and ego isn’t inserted into every situation, which allows you to take a step back without clinging to outcomes (especially if things don’t go as you planned). The reason people usually get too attached is because they want control over something — people, experiences, outcomes. This is futile because ultimately everything will come to an end, and the only thing that is certain is that things will change. Attachment is an unwillingness to face that reality. But when we let go, non-attachment = freedom.

You don’t have to be a meditator to practice greater non-attachment in your life. You can do so through other activities that foster self-awareness. One of the best ways is to journal every morning and write down your thoughts, worries, and wants — this act alone helps decrease your attachment from those things. Or, commit to doing something difficult over a long period of time (like a marathon), which requires you to deal with the mental/physical reality of shifting pleasure and pain.

Here’s one more quote from the book:

If you are truly strong, there is little need to emphasize it to yourself or to others. Best to take another tack entirely and direct your attention where you fear most to look. You can do this by allowing yourself to feel, even to cry, to not have to have opinions about everything, to not appear invincible or unfeeling to others, but instead to be in touch with and appropriately open about your feelings.


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