The Guardian reported this morning that sales of “mind, body and spirit books” are booming in the UK. Thirteen per cent up, no less, and all this while books as a category of narcotic continue their slide into unfashionability.
Leading the charge/gentle, meditative stroll through a field of wheat is South Korean monk Haemin Sunim, who has hit the “Girl on the Train” level of publishing jackpot with his “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down”, but if that doesn’t appeal, there’s no end of other offerings with “Universe”, “Joy”, “Calm” and similar in their titles.
One conclusion from this headline may be that sales are up because these books work. At last a solution to life’s infinite vexations, or as Archbishop Desmond Tutu (“The Book of Joy” £7.99) put it in the same piece, “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?” Steady on, Desmond.
Another conclusion may be that people are 13% more desperate and unhappy. Or that they have 13% more disposable income. Or that the enigmatic monk has an exceptionally good press team, and that they, in fact, are the people we should be sitting cross legged with, pinching thumb and forefinger optimistically together, in search of the path to taking a load off.
Clarity is a rare commodity in the self-help environment, though, added to which Saint Peacock has to confess to a certain skepticism vis-à-vis the industry. It shares rather regrettable parallels with the slimming and diet racket, in which the glum faces on members of the obesity task force illustrate its perpetual failure.
Yet for men who have tried mindfulness and found it failing to meet their needs, there is a glimmer of hope. A report earlier this year, in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (and which if you’re one of these people with an “unbelievably busy life” you may have missed), discovered that women benefit more than men in response to mindfulness training.
There is no module in the monk’s handbook on the potential of the Dave channel to assist in confronting self-loathing.
In fact, the only significant benefit in men they discovered was an improved ability to describe emotions. And this even though men in the test meditated more than women. So chaps, back to your seats, give yourself a big hand and allow yourself to visualize the phrase “it’s not just me then”.
The piece goes on to describe how women and men part company in adolescence when it comes to confronting – or more likely running away from – problems. Girls favour the path of depression and anxiety, boys seek a sympathetic ear through conduct disorder and substance abuse.
The patterns continue into adulthood, in which men “externalize” and direct action outward (if you’re not depressed already, just knowing that one of those externalization actions is “watching TV” should help drain some of your will to live.)
Women meanwhile “internalize” by “ruminating or writing about a negative event.”
Even those people whose expertise is in, say, the replacement of tyres on cars should be able to see that mindfulness is much more aligned with women’s quest for self-acceptance than men’s. (There is no module in the monk’s handbook on the potential of the Dave channel to assist in confronting self-loathing).
It seems self-evident that as a significant contributor to many men’s problems is an inability to talk about them, share them or “open up” (© Prince Harold), a programme of intense internalisation is not the ideal release mechanism.
It also makes one feel less guilty about feeling meditation to be like listening to a particularly dull stranger who won’t pick up on the signs that you’d rather look out of the window, and less surprised that typical male responses to attempting to get anywhere with it should be a wandering mind, the muttering of “fuck this” or falling into a brief yet deep siesta.
Saint Peacock is eager to contribute to everyone feeling better about themselves, being more self-accepting, enjoying life more, whatever it takes to make your sun come out.
Finding your physical thing, your cultural groove, your means of personal expression – these are all vital objectives.
If you’ve given mindfulness a shot though, and found the only noticeable difference is a slightly enlarged emotional vocabulary, don’t beat yourself up about it.
You’re not alone.