Teach us to sit still – Tim Parks

Tim Parks is a writer I was peripherally aware of – he had a column a while back in the Guardian about supporting Verona (the Italian football team, not the setting for Romeo and Juliet) and I think maybe I’d seen one or two of his other books in shops and stuff, but this was the first thing of his I’d actually picked up and paid for. I was intrigued because it said it was about a sceptic’s discovery of meditation. Basically, the story (and it is a story; an autobiographical one) is that Tim was having trouble with his gentleman’s area and the Italian doctors he visited couldn’t really decide what was causing it. They prescribed things and nothing seemed to work, and eventually they decided that the best thing would be to do some surgery and see if that helped.

At some stage, Tim sent off for a book on Gentleman’s Area Problems which prescribed doing some lying down and being quiet, and although it didn’t fix everything, it was a step in the right direction, and it meant that he didn’t have the surgery immediately. At some stage, it stopped working quite so well, but because it had done something, Tim looked into similar things and discovered meditation. Dismissing it as nonsense, he still gave it a chance, and although he didn’t think much of the philosophy around it, he did find it improved his condition, so he kept at it, eventually going on retreats with all-day guided meditation sessions and so on.

And although that is what the book is about, it’s not what I liked most about it (although I have given meditating a try a few times and it is very nice). Tim Park’s writing style is marvellous. His light touch and eye for detail makes every page a treat, especially in his dealings with Italian culture he still hasn’t quite got his head around after 20 years or so in the country. And that’s why to read this book. Even if you don’t take up meditation as a result.

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