Waxing lyrical



Author, comedian and mental-health campaigner Ruby Wax.
?Author, comedian and mental-health campaigner Ruby Wax.?Pic: Shirin Houston

Waxing lyrical

Áine Ryan

IF all you ever wanted was to have a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes in your wardrobe, buy this book at your peril. Or, if your Dolce and Gabbana handbag means more to you than Enda Kenny, the Beatles, or even your granny, at least be mindful before reading Ruby Wax’s, ‘Sane New World’.
You see it turns out there is much more to materialism than meets the eye. It’s all in the mind. Well, in the brain (that’s lizard-squirrel-monkey brain. Don’t ask, just read the book).   
“This need to have more is not limited to the wives of footballers or head honchos of big organisations… The shopping never stops; the label says it all. Our self-esteem drives us to buy a designer handbag that costs the GNP of Croatia which is why people with nothing will spend their last shekel on Dolce and Gabbana or a £300 pair of Nikes,” Wax writes in her highly entertaining and informative tome about ‘taming the mind’.
Bottom line for Wax is that having more and more is just a designer-scented distraction from our innate sense of uselessness. That’s why some of us (not this writer) have Twitter accounts.
“To compensate for this undercurrent of uselessness, we pretend we are all terribly important and that we have something to bring to the world. That’s why we have Twitter so we can check how many followers we’ve got. We can count them; 100, 1,000 people you’ve never met, telling you what they had for lunch, not knowing you exist.”
This post Celtic Tiger angst (in the case of the Irish) is because back in the good old days ‘[our] status used to be based on bloodlines, now it’s based on what you do’.
Wax writes: “Each of us thinks somewhere inside we have a purpose. Long ago we didn’t have this existential angst; we were hunters and gatherers.”
Back in the good old days our brains were not overloaded with constant information from an omnipresent digital media monster. We didn’t have to grapple with ‘a 3.6 earthquake in Kow Loo Toik’ or floods on ‘the islands off Papua New Guinea’.  
But then, let’s be honest, we do love disasters. Why? Because they satisfy our inner savage, stupid!  
In explaining the evolution of the brain, first developed 400 million years ago, the author explains why women who may read the philosopher Heidegger ‘also want to screw the plumber’. Or, from a male perspective, why former US President Bill Clinton could run a vast country but still needed to do highly inappropriate things with a young female intern and a cigar.

Change your mind
IN espousing the power of mindfulness, ‘Sane New World’ explores the make-up of the brain and how it can be changed so that we can perceive the world around us differently. With characteristic wit, honesty and self-deprecatory asides about her own life, Wax simplifies a very complex subject, making it an entirely readable, sometimes hilarious but always engaging, read.
She wrote ‘Sane New World’ after completing a postgraduate diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling and a Master’s in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) at Oxford.
Just by ‘working-out the brain like a muscle’ the quality of one’s mental state can significantly improve, she urges. Like many contemporary theorists, she dismisses previous popular theories espousing that the brain structure remains much the same from childhood. Indeed, she suggests that through mindfulness techniques we have more control over it than previously believed.
What makes Wax’s theories more compelling is that she also tells her own personal story of depression; a state of mind she often covered up with the mask of humour during her most outrageous and comedic public appearances.

“Mindfulness means intentionally paying attention, in the present moment, in a non-judgemental way (you don’t snap at yourself when you notice you might not be in a good place). Once you stand back, you don’t try to make things different, it’s not even about relaxation but about witnessing whatever’s going on without the usual critical commentary.” (Sane New World, page 139.)

Her story
“I probably didn’t need to mention that I was very, very sceptical about learning something connected to meditation. I thought it was a Buddhist thing where you have to use those words like Shuranana murtissugamutisatmanyannanaan, an explosion of meaningless letters. Also I was not about to worship some elephant with a thousand arms or a smiling fat man.” (Sane New World, p 135)

Rolling Sun
AS part of the Rolling Sun Book Festival, author, comedian and mental-health campaigner,  Ruby Wax will be in conversation with playwright, John Breen, on Sunday night next, November 17, in Hotel Westport, at 8pm. Tickets €20. Pre-booking essential.

For more information on this and other Rolling Sun Book Festival events, visit  www.rollingsunbookfestival.com. To book festival tickets, call 098 28088.