MH@H Book Reviews

Book Review: Wherever You Go There You Are

Book cover: Wherever you go there you are

I was expecting good things from Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He’s the developer of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and a founding director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  This book was a best-seller, yet it managed to fall short of my expectations.

Things started off well.  I appreciated the lightheartedness of such comments as meditation “does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed, narcissist, navel gazer, [or] space cadet”.  The book aimed to provide quick and easy access to the fundamentals of mindfulness meditation. A key message was that anyone can meditate.  However, for me, the book didn’t live up to the goal of making mindfulness meditation more accessible; to be honest, I was very tempted to give up partway through.

The book was more focused on formal meditation practice than I was expecting.  The author writes about sitting to meditate not as simply the physical act, but a sort of profound capital-S Sitting.  I’ve heard that use of the term before and it has always somehow struck me as a tad pretentious.  Walking meditation was also covered, with a lot of attention given to a formal practice that involves walking back and forth focusing on the motions of walking.  I was a bit disappointed by this, as one of my favourite ways to be mindful is to walk outside and pay attention to the beauty of nature.  

At the stress reduction clinic where the author practices, they have clients do an introductory 45-minute body scan while lying down. That’s fine, but it’s a pretty serious commitment.

There were some good suggestions, including trusting your own ability to reflect, grow, and being generous to yourself and others.  Kabat-Zinn explains that it’s possible to find understanding and transformation in the present moment.  He wrote “You cannot escape yourself, try as you might”.  A variety of metaphors were used that seemed quite intuitive, such as you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf, and awareness is like a pot that is able to contain strong emotions.  Other metaphors made less sense to me, like the idea that we are dancing mountains or that parenting is like an extended meditation retreat, with the child as the Zen master.  He also likened sitting with our breathing to sitting by an open fire back in the caveman days.

At times the book tends to venture into more obscure territory, and this is where it really lost me.  The author suggests contemplating “what is my Way?” as part of meditation practice,  and adds that “as a human being, you are the central figure in the universal hero’s mythic journey.”  A quirk that irritated me slightly was his apparent love-on for Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, which is quoted frequently.  I’m not familiar with that book, and am really not sure why I’m supposed to care about it.

I would probably have viewed the book differently had I been looking for something heavily focused on formal meditation.  However, that’s just not the way that I’m wanting to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life.  I’m not someone who has any desire to go to a silent meditation retreat; that’s not how I choose to go about my inwardly and outwardly mindful journey.

I’ll leave you with this sentence from the afterword, which I think really captures the book as a whole: “Can we realize that wherever we go, there we are and that this ‘there’ is always ‘here’ and so requires at least acknowledgment and perhaps a degree of acceptance of what is, however it is, because it already is?”

Wherever You Go There You Are is available on Amazon.

You can find my other book reviews here.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Fundamentals mini-ebook

The ACT Fundamentals mini-ebook/workbook, available from the MH@H Download Centre, provides an introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy, including cognitive defusion and aligning actions to values.

This post contains affiliate links.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Wherever You Go There You Are”

  1. I totally agree. I was given this book years ago. I found it didn’t live up to it’s subtitle – this is not about mindfulness in everyday life. There are some good tidbits in here, but it wasn’t particularly helpful for me as someone who wants to do mindfulness practices at home.

  2. I’ve heard Kabat-Zinn’s name come up a lot when people talk about mindfulness, but this doesn’t encourage me to search out his writing. I’ve tried meditation in the past, but when the depression is bad, it’s hard to meditate – it provokes a lot of anxious thoughts in me, to the point where I can’t sit still (not usually a problem for me). Then I get out of the habit and it’s hard to get back into it when the depression is gone (I used to try to read a poem every day, but that stopped for the same reason: too hard to do it when depressed, too hard to get back in the habit when not depressed).

    1. I like the idea of mindfulness because it doesn’t have to be directed inward. I’m like you, when the depression is bad I have no desire to focus inwardly.

  3. That’s a shame, I always said I’d read that someday. I think you need to find your own meditation and what works for you. I have that with the Headspace app 🙂

Leave a Reply