I started reading a book called Why Buddhism is True. It is written by Robert Wright, an evolutionary psychologist, who aims to disseminate his thoughts on meditation and enlightenment in language and examples that laypeople can understand. I’m not Buddhist and I only dabble in meditation with my very accessible use of the app Headspace, and my own self-driven attempts at meditating. I’ve cultivated a consistent daily practice of mindfulness meditation at this point, though it’s mainly confined to a brief (10-20 minute) morning sitting.
I’ve had my eye on this book since it came out and rose quickly on the charts of current bestsellers last year. My interest stems from trying to calm my thoughts and quiet my mind and I see a big parallel between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which I’m starting to pursue in my self-directed therapy, and mindfulness meditation. I see the reading of this book as a good adjunct, with a slightly different perspective on the thinking, feeling, and behaving ideas I’m considering in depth lately. I’m about halfway through the book because I only started it last night, but so far, it’s holding my attention and evading my anticipated concern that it would be too preachy. It’s had its holier-than-thou moments, but most of the time, the author is relatable and presents his ideas in an informative, rather than overly argumentative, manner. That said, it comes as no surprise that it’s highly persuasive in terms of its advocacy of Buddhism and the notion that we’d all be better people, as well as happier and more fulfilled, if we meditated more. Weight does ascribe to the tenant that I’ve heard echoed in all other meditation resources I’ve perused that there’s no “success” or “failure” in meditation and no ultimate “goal.” Additionally, the point isn’t to get to a place where you are only focusing on your breath and have completely silenced your kind of thoughts, but rather than you simply acknowledge the thoughts or somatic sensations as what they are and move on. I don’t think I summarized this latter point well, perhaps because I don’t fully understand it yet, but that’s the general gist I’ve gathered. I like these anti-evaluative qualities of meditation as a practice because it alleviates the pressure to do it “right” and reduces the tendency to feel “bad” at it, especially for someone like me with ADHD for whom attentive focus is so fleeting.
I’m interested to see how I feel after finishing the book. I don’t think it’ll influence me to change much of what I’m already doing in my basic mindfulness practice, but I’m open to any strategies that appeal to me in terms of their potential efficacy to combat the issues I’m working on as well as their attractiveness to me at face value (how much they interest me or seem like something I want to try).
The book I read Wednesday was another that’s been on my to-read list for a long time, this one for nearly ten years though. Marathon Woman is Katherine Switzer’s memoir detailing her courageously bold move of becoming the first official female entrant (and finisher) of the Boston Marathon, back in 1967. In my heydays of running a ton and being completely obsessed with all things running, I longed to read her book but never got my hands on a copy. Eventually, I forgot about it as other interests supplanted, or at least healthily accompanied, my obsession with running. Last year, 2017, marked the fifty-year anniversary of Switzer’s race. The book regarnered tons of media attention, in the running world at least, as Switzer again ran the Boston Marathon, this time at age 70, and wrote an updated forward for the book. My interest was renewed and I finally got around to digging into it on Wednesday. As most runners will tend to agree, Switzer’s accomplishment was not so monumental in the fact that she completed the marathon, but for the doors in opened and minds it changed in the positive direction about the viability of women running long distances and having equal opportunities to do so as men. Before Switzer’s run, many people held the seemingly crazy beliefs that women couldn’t run that far because they’d “turn into men,” “lose their uterus,” perish, or otherwise have doom befallen on them. Although Roberta Gibb had finished the marathon the year before, she had bandited the race (jumped in from the bushes in Wellesley), so her achievement was largely overlooked. Thus, Switzer’s completion of the 26.2 distance was, by all intents and purposes, astonishing and novel. Even her coach, a well-worn runner himself, failed to believe women could, or should, run so far. In fact, he made her prove she could cover the full distance in practice before he’d agree to let her register for the race. She ended up bettering his contingency by running 31 miles beforehand, a distance even most elite runners don’t hit in marathon training. Though her goal was never to run fast, and she constantly reminds us in her writing that she was plodding along so slowly, the mere completion of the race distance in the official race was a hallmark accomplishment and the major impetus for the massive acceptance and subsequent boom of women in running. As a passionate runner, Switzer is an obvious iconic heroine of mine. I enjoyed her book, though I had qualms with some of what she said and some of her reported actions and ideas.
As the rain and sleet is forecasted to keep pelting down in a disgustingly wet mess all day today, I imagine I’ll swap my outdoor break time for indoor reading time. I’ll soak up the rest of the Buddhism book today and then engage in one of my favorite pastimes of the past year–searching the library catalog for my next great reads. How cool it is to have a fountain of topics of all kinds available for free in the simple entity of a book.