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An involving story of a journey through pain and recovery
on 8 July 2010
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.