Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing

Emily Gould writes:

At some point in his mid-forties, the novelist Tim Parks developed a terrible pain, near-constant and located in embarrassing places: his lower abdomen and crotch. ‘I had quite a repertoire of pains at this point: a general smouldering tension throughout the abdomen, a sharp jab in the perineum, an electric shock darting down the inside of the thighs, an ache in the small of the back, a shivery twinge in the penis itself.’ He eventually overcame his chronic ache by practising Buddhist Vipassana meditation. ‘Vipassana,’ the internet tells him, ‘means seeing things as they really are. It is the process of self-purification by self-observation.’ It is, he’s told, a universal remedy, but he’s not convinced: ‘“Universal” and “remedy”, I thought, are two words that when put together can only epitomise wishful thinking, unless we are talking about a bullet in the brain.’ And then, at last, the breakthrough occurs.

(LRB 2 August 2012)

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