A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, by Ruby Wax

I used to like Ruby Wax. She was on my telly a lot when I was growing up and, though she had an annoying drawl, she was rather amusing. Stripped of the medium of TV and given free rein in a book, I found her less appealing. The humour grates and her witty repartee becomes an annoying, often-times jarring addition to what should be a relevant and useful book on everyone’s favourite topic – mindfulness.

Wax claims to be an expert on mindfulness. She’s got a Masters in it. How long does a Masters usually take? A year? Two? Apparently you can be certified (certifiable in this case) after just eight weeks, a bona fide Master of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University no less. Give me a break. Eight weeks, a certificate, some knowledge of “how not to be super depressed and get myself out of a funk with a bit of thinking about myself” and simplified neuroscience (but not so simplified as to be in any way understandable) do not a professional make.

Friends, I have a confession to make. I didn’t finish this book. I couldn’t. The more I read the worse I felt. Surely a book that’s supposed to aid you in becoming less frazzled should have had the opposite effect. Tossed aside in disgust at the end of most nights, I was unable to concentrate fully (one of the habits of good mindfulness) on where it was leading me because there were so many self-satisfied, smug sections of supposed jokes. Humour is fine, especially when talking about depression and mental health, but this ego fest will help no one who really needs help.

The pseudo-science that Wax spouts is based in fact but given a gloss of vanity; everything is focused through the lens of herself and her struggles. And there’s no getting away from the idea that this is all a very first-world problem. ‘We have too much, we want more, we have no time, we need more time’ leads to “oh my gosh I’m going to go crazy, aaagh, why can’t I just calm down?!” I’d like to see a Syrian refugee read this and tell Wax what strife and pain really look like. She acknowledges there are bigger problems than her frazzled brain not working properly, but it’s not a point that is laboured and I was left feeling it all rather pointless.

The middle of the book (which I am presently skimming for the sake of this review) has a six-week mindfulness course for those of you who can commit six weeks of your life to Wax. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some very useful activities and exercises about awareness of your body, breathing, emotions, feelings and thoughts that will enable you to practise mindfulness in the comfort of your own home – just be aware that they’re packaged Wax-style.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for the modern, busy, overworked, over-wrought average Westerner. We should be more in touch with what is going on inside of us and how that affects our views of what is going on outside. There are lessons to be learnt in how to practically deal with centring ourselves and having a greater understanding of what drives us. Personally I would recommend finding these elsewhere, and giving Ruby Wax a wide berth. Pride and egocentrism, misplaced playfulness plus flippant jokes and unwitty witticisms are not particularly helpful, or, indeed, mindful.


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TITLE: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled
AUTHOR(S): Ruby Wax
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
RRP: $37.00
ISBN: 9780241186497

A Jill of all trades, mistress of none, Kate has tried everything: prison psychology, volunteering with homeless people, teaching English abroad, and editing a magazine in China (thankfully not in Chinese!). A born procrastinator, she’s been working on her autobiographical book for the past five years and has got nowhere. Although wanderlust fills her heart she is happiest performing her comedy poems at spoken word nights and getting inordinate amounts of attention.

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