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Noted novelist and translator Tim Parks has departed from his usual themes to write this autobiographical account of his journey from a life dominated by acute pain to one where a reasonable equilibrium between body and soul enables him to live in relative comfort and healthy productivity.

Teach Us To Sit Still will be of great interest to anyone with a chronic medical condition which the doctors seem unable to cure, but also to anyone who is concerned about work/life balance and the long-term effects of ignoring the body's needs. I can't say I'm in any either of those categories but I still found it a fascinating read. But the book is not only about pain and a quest for healing, for Tim, being the writer and scholar that he is, digresses frequently into philosophical and literary themes which break up the stark accounts of medical processes.

Tim Parks developed a set of problems in the region of prostate, groin and pelvis which had a devastating effect on his life. The first part of the book describes the medical explorations which he had to undergo in order to seek a diagnosis. Any man reading the book is going to squirm with discomfort as Parks' recounts the procedures carried out on him, some of which make root canal work sound like a head massage.

I can only admire Tim for his candour in sharing with his readers the daily humiliations caused by his complaint. Nobody wants to hear a doctor say, "It has to hurt I'm afraid", and there is pain in such quantities I found I had to skip quickly through some paragraphs.

The tests he undergoes all show that there is nothing wrong with him. His relief at finding out that he does not after all have prostate cancer is tempered by having to go home to live with the condition, perhaps for ever. However, such is Tim's desperation, that he starts to investigate alternative forms of medicine, visiting an Ayuverdic practitioner who has interesting but bizarre things to say, and then finding a book by Doctor David Wise, A Headache in the Pelvis which seems to be a turning point in his journey towards recovery.

But it is the last third of the book in which we read of a kind of breakthrough - I am torn in writing this review in wanting to say what happens while not wanting to spoil the book. Let me say that Tim's decision to take up Vipassana meditation was fruitful in a variety of ways.

I think most people would recognise the need for more centredness in their lives, and by reading this book they will see how meditation practices could help them with niggling symptoms which inhabit the background of their lives. This is not a self-help book but rather an involving journey with a fine writer through things we all hope we don't have to deal with in our own lives.
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on 2 October 2015
This has to be the most tedious book I have ever read. I persisted all the way through as I was interested to learn how this author found relief from his symptoms but it was such a disappointment. It did make me laugh though - the author explains at great great great length essentially how he had to learn to stop verbalizing everything so much ! No success there then......

I have never left a1 star review before to my recollection and regret having to do so now but I honestly cannot recommend this book.
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This is a difficult book to categorise. It has a much much wider market than those who suffer from 'problems with the waterworks', BPH, irritable bladder etc. It is a fascinating and deeply reflective account of the meaning of illness and wellness. Parks, an acknowledged atheist and sceptic about all things remotely New Age or alternative in the health field, developed an increasingly disruptive and painful urogenital condition. Exhaustive tests yielded little information, other than to show an absence of anything 'sinister'. Conventional pharmacological management proving largely ineffective for him, the standard option was for surgery. Something which he had 'a gut instinct' was wrong for him. Parks' exhaustive research on his condition and the surgical procedure via the internet showed the procedure offered could not be guaranteed to be successful, or indeed problem free.

Author Parks began to look at other options, specifically to consider not just 'the condition' but himself as experiencing the condition. Discovering a book which discussed his condition as a muscular/neurological reaction to hyperpresent tension - an attribute of his own nature - almost against his intellect he began to explore embodiment, grappling with his own inability to be present in the here and now of his body, rather than the constant backwards and forwards cerebral activity of the mind. His desire to understand his own story and narrative, what his body was saying, led him, initially sceptically and unwillingly, to a gifted Shiatsu practitioner, and, later to a deeper experience of meditation. The initial debilitating nature of his condition had been much helped by the specific techniques of `paradoxical relaxation' described in the book, but the alleviation of pain and nocturia were no longer seen as the end of the journey.

Parks' ability to be open to challenge his own perceived notions of reality, and to accept experience completely outside his belief systems is rather wonderful.

I particularly appreciate the fact that he doesn't fall into the convert's trap of saying `THIS is the way', exhorting everyone to follow suit. This was HIS way, his story, his meaning.

There is also much which is fascinating about the possible effect of various illnesses on both the choice of subject matter and the modes of expression used by other writers and artists with chronic conditions

There is so much within this book, not least, an understory about language and translation. As well as writing novels, he also teaches Italian/English translation skills to students in Italy. There is a parallel here to `what is lost in translation' between the experience (any experience) and the description of it. Our species' amazing faculty for language and complex expression both illuminates and obfuscates our experiences, at one and the same moment. Language itself defines and therefore limits what it describes. His analysis of various texts and what will be `lost in translation' from a too literal juxtaposition of one language into another, missing the inner meaning of a thing, is directly mirrored in his attempt to describe `the ineffable', the felt sense of the present which arises when the mind is stilled from its endless narrative. As he notes, in the moment the narrating mind tries to verbalise the experience, we are no longer WITHIN what we are experiencing.

Another book which incorporates the autobiography of illness is Hilary Mantel's equally wonderful Giving up the Ghost: A memoir
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on 14 May 2016
The problem with this book is that Tim Parks finds himself and his (not terribly dazzling) insights and his psyche far more fascinating than it is reasonable to expect the rest of us will find them. "Tedious in the extreme", as one reviewer calls it, seems to me a fair comment on this book. I would add the word exasperating to that assessment. But clearly I am in the minority.
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on 3 October 2010
I bought this for my brother-in-law who was in the hospital with kidney stones. He loved it. He knew Tim Parks' other work (about football), so he was cautiously willing to open this book.
I bought it for my husband, who has had digestive problems since the dawn of time.
He's actually reading it with enthusiasm. (We have a family tradition of never reading the book that one spouse buys for another.)
This is a great book for men who have chronic health problems of any kind--but especially delicate problems involving their waterworks.
The woman friend who recommended it to me said she couldn't put it down (the book, that is).
I too found it engaging--a page turner on par with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Really.
I'd never come across a male writer reporting so candidly, humorously and touchingly about
his health problems.

Illness can often open a door to spiritual growth, even for the most determined materialist.
Jung said it is through our wounds that the light comes into our life.
Joseph Campbell wrote: Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
Tim Parks describes how that light entered his life, how he found his treasure.
An inspiring read.
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on 28 January 2016
I'm dismayed to admit that although I started this with high hopes, I have to agree with the reviewer who described this as "tedious in the extreme". I haven't read any of the author's other books so it may just be that his style of writing is not for me, but eventually I found I couldn't bear any more of it and gave up half-way through.
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on 7 October 2010
This is a beautifully crafted account of the author's experience of learning how to sit with and move through chronic pain .His central discovery is that sitting in meditation changes his perception of everything.He became conscious of how much of his life and waking moments had been lived in his head,rather than directly experienced through the body and the senses.
Tim Parks somehow manages to convey the nuances of internal change (stream of consciousness) without becoming a "convert".His account of his symptoms,pain and resistance seem both unembellished and truthful.The literary references and teaching methods add to the theme.
I started this book one evening then immediately returned to it in the morning,finishing it in one sitting.I would recommend this to everyone,not only those with chronic pain.
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on 24 March 2011
A wonderful book, as others have said, but not for the faint-hearted. If the honest account of an embarrassing condition doesn't make you wince, then some of the (poorly reproduced) illustrations surely will. What makes it a 5-star book for me though is what the pain (and the meditation therapies) shows Parks about his own character and about the extraordinary, un-pindownable nature of human consciousness. His final realisation that the words that babble endlessly in all our heads are just "fizz" that can be stilled by meditation to gain a deeper relationship with ourselves, is powerful and profound.
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on 26 July 2010
This is a gem of a book. As the wife of someone who has spent many years suffering intermittently from prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain, and for whom it has had a particularly devastating impact over the past 6 months, I found it enormously reassuring - as well as enjoyable - to read Tim's story. CPP is not a life-threatening or even serious condition. But it can have a surprisingly corrosive effect, not just on the life of the person suffering from it but on all those close. And it's not always easy for those close bystanders (let alone more distant observers) to understand the pain and misery it causes or be continually patient and sympathetic when their own lives are put on hold as a result.

Tim Parks' symptoms, medical experiences and personal dilemmas have been unnervingly similar to those of my husband. As a woman, it is hard to appreciate quite what the pain must be like and why it is so utterly demoralising. Tim's descriptions have helped me better understand what my husband is going through; and his frankness about the mental anguish of trying to come to terms with a condition that seems astonishingly common yet so poorly understood (and too embarrassing for most people to discuss without sniggering) is hugely refreshing. Then to read his fascinating account of how he managed to come to terms with it all gives hope indeed. It should be required reading for anyone affected by CPP, their wives and partners.

But this is not just a book for those blighted by CPP. As other reviewers have made clear, there is much more to it than just the unpacking of a particular health problem. It is a fascinating exploration of personality, a journey through the limitations of modern medicine, an unravelling of the impact of troubles in life and a lesson in how to come to terms with oneself. All told with humour and intelligent asides into the worlds of language, literature and art. There can be few people who would not enjoy and learn something from it.
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on 21 March 2012
I loved this book. I came across it via Will Self's website where he reproduces a review saying that it made him laugh and made him cry. I didn't cry but then as a woman, I would never have to suffer the indignities experienced by Tim Parks in his quest to find a diagnosis of his prostate and bladder problems. A diagnosis would then suggest treatment and a possible cure. Instead, worryingly, doctors jump to all kinds of unfounded conclusions and suggest an operation that could well be catastrophic. Fortunately, Tim Parks is reluctant and eventually comes to manage his problem through taking up first relaxation then meditation. There is lots of insight and wonderful self-deprecation as the self-confessed driven author and active sportsman is challenged by the idea of simply sitting still. The prose races along and is always engaging and it's great to read an illness narrative with a happy ending. What completely intrigues me though - pace Darian Leader's books - is the whole business of why people get ill - and Tim Parks' brief discussion of Thomas Hardy and Mussolini's psychosomatic illnesses in relation to his own, is fascinating.
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